[N25o 31.019’E050o51.948]. This is what you enter in your GPS to find the latest creation by American sculptor Richard Serra in the desert of Qatar, inaugurated in April 2014. The name of this monumental installation is East-West/West-East, and it is located around 60km outside of Doha at the Brouq Nature Reserve near Zekreet, in other words, in the middle of nowhere from a non-native point of view.
East-West/West-East is composed of four huge steel plates that are about fifteen meters tall and with just a few centimeters thick. The pieces are placed following an imaginary line around one kilometer long between two small gypsum hills. The artist explains that the physical situation of these sculptures follows the particular topography of the place, the aim being to create a space to discover as you move across the landscape and the installation itself.
Again we have a work that follows some of the fundamentals of Serra’s public art installations: the concept of a path or journey to understand the relationship of the visitors to the work-site; the raw steel material that will change its appearance due to the environmental inclemency; and the need to redefine a place, in this case by connecting two seas, one in the East, the other in the West. However, with East-West/West-East we are probably facing the most spectacular outdoor installation by Richard Serra, because of its scale and the special context of where it is installed.
Serra invites us to experiment with our perception by walking between pieces and feeling the rhythm of our own body in connection with the landscape and the sculpture. But East-West/West-East incorporates a new element, which is to find the piece. Arriving to the place can become an adventure if you are not well prepared, because at some point you need to leave the highway and go off road without any kind of guidance signals. Just when you are close enough to see the massive steel plates, you can breathe with a combination of excitement and relief.
Once you arrive you feel very small. Despite its minimalist shape in comparison to previous organic works by Serra, the equilibrium between perceived weight and lightness is very intense. The isolation, the extreme heat, and the impressive sculpture take you to a surrealistic place, far from the Earth. The result is a colossal combination of landscape and monument, almost sublime in terms of eye-catching effect for the visitor.
Source of the Video: BLOUIN ARTINFO
Some questions came to my mind driving back to Doha: Could this location be considered a public space? Is, therefore, East-West/West-East a public artwork? The particular context of Qatar, in all senses, supposes a challenge to find the answers to those questions. It is ironic how the title of the work, East-West/West-East, reflects the convergence between two worlds: the conservative and traditional Islamic East with the aggressive capitalist West. This is Qatar, a country that grows following two parallel but opposite lines. In terms of Public Art, this combination will definitely enrich public spaces that are demanding new creative expressions.
Richard Serra and the State of Qatar have a special connection since 2011, when the artist presented a piece entitled “7”, which is located at the Museum of Islamic Art Park in Doha. With East-West/West-East, Serra strengthens his relationship with this country and its Royal Family. In addition to East-West/West-East, Qatar Museums is showcasing Serra’s artwork in different venues throughout Doha as a new powerful demonstration of its interest to identify this country as a reference in the international art scene.
As a preliminary conclusion, and after an exchange of opinions with a colleague here in Doha, I think the purpose of the Qatari public art promoters is to raise the interest from people to arts in general. Qatar Museums is implementing a program that combines top signatures (Richard Serra) together with “alternative” artists, some of them from the own country or representing the Arabic face of arts
Some massive cultural projects (mainly museums) are under construction, the city-country is itself under construction, and not only physically. Within this context, (I assume) the purpose of public art today in Doha is to increase the acceptation from local people about the diversity of art and, at the same time, to send a message to expats and foreign criticism about the aperture of the cultural system of this country.
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All Pictures by Nacho Zamora