The art of life
Written by Kate Lord Brown
Qatar’s world-class public art can be enjoyed from the moment you arrive at Hamad International Airport.
At the recent New York Times Art for Tomorrow conference, the importance of public art in Qatar was at the forefront of discussions. Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker said: “Introducing an airport as a destination location in and of itself required significant design detail and influence. The vision of the airport was to make the experience like no other: comfortable, desirable, and memorable. An important element of this was introducing art and design.”
The harmony and symmetry of Hamad International Airport’s design is complemented by iconic pieces of public art in key spaces. Urs Fischer’s acclaimed bronze sculpture Untitled (Lamp/Bear) has been situated at the heart of the departures terminal since it opened in 2014, and the seven-metre-high canary-yellow bear has become a popular photo opportunity for travellers flying out of Doha.
Public art such as this functions both as a visual anchor in a busy place, and as a human element in a new environment. Elsewhere in the airport, travellers can enjoy murals by Qatari artist Faraj Duham and sculpture by Ali Hassan, Marc Quinn, and Rudolf Stingel. Heading for your taxi at Doha Arrivals Hall, a charming herd of bronze oryx by Tom Claassen see you on your way. Tom Otterness’s ‘Playground’ sculptures have also become much loved by younger travellers, and provide a welcome chance to let off some steam before travelling. Driving to the airport at night, you are greeted by beautiful rows of coloured streetlights graced with arabesque calligraphy. This is art for everyone to enjoy, art that reaches beyond gallery and exhibition spaces.
Elsewhere in the country, Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) has established an ambitious programme of public art which is ‘immersive, informal, and often outdoors’ at sites including Aspire and the Qatar National Convention Centre, where Louise Bourgeois’s Maman is among the works on show. Public art projects bring beauty and interest to functional everyday environments – for example the ‘calligraffiti’ designs commissioned from street artist eL Seed for the new Salwa Road tunnels.
Art in everyday environments enhances life in many ways. It educates, creates a sense of community and focus, and celebrates the landscape or key locations. Public art is about communication, and pieces which are commissioned for specific sites have a particularly important relationship with their locations. Near the west coast of Qatar, Richard Serra’s East–West/West–East, commissioned for the Brouq desert, has four 14m standing steel plates dispersed over a kilometre, which are perfectly aligned with the landscape. Visitors to Doha can also experience his 7 (2011), located on the Corniche near the Museum of Islamic Art, and paying homage to the spiritual significance of the number seven in Islamic culture. Serra was recommended by the designer of the museum, I. M. Pei, who envisioned a way to “connect the aesthetic content of the museum to the possibility of building a public space for the people”.
It is this sense of connection between art, environment, and people which is at the heart of public art programmes. Public art in Qatar is thriving, and QMA is looking to the future. Jean-Paul Engelen, former Qatar Museums Director of Public Arts, said: “The impact is going to be long term. This is not something just for art-lovers. This is for a wide audience.” Public art is art for everyone.
Qatar Museums Authority
Qatar Museums Authority runs a series of talks, workshops, and tours with its public art programme, allowing everyone from school children to adults to explore their creativity and learn more about contemporary art.
To discover more about public art on show in Qatar, visit Qatar Tourism’s site: qatartourism.gov.qa