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January 11, 2012

Richard Serra’s Middle Eastern Masterpiece

By Rachel Wolff | Sculpture

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Courtesy Museum of Islamic Art

Qatar, the tiny, extraordinarily well-off Gulf nation, has been making headlines for its support of the Arab Spring (financially and otherwise). But in the art world, members of Qatar’s ambitious and culture-savvy royal family have been news-makers for years, snapping up seven-figure masterpieces at auction and funding a series of impressive new museums in its ever-bourgeoning capital, Doha.

The rollout of these cultural monuments has been steady, starting with the I.M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in 2008 and the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in 2010 (the country has also broken ground on an ambitious Jean Nouvel–designed national museum slated to open in 2013). The latest addition to Doha’s ever-growing portfolio opened to the public just last week. The MIA Park, a crescent-shaped promenade built up from the water that’s located adjacent to Pei’s stunning museum, is designed as a local destination, where arts-happy Qataris can gather for concerts, performances, picnics, zen-nature breaks and films.

Anchoring the structure is a massive new sculpture by Richard Serra, his tallest to date and his first installation in the Middle East. The towering piece is made from Serra’s signature cor-ten steel, which has a patina that changes over time. The piece is called 7 (a mystical number in the Islamic tradition that appears frequently in both Islamic practice and Islamic art). It comprises seven steel plates, each 80 feet tall, and tapers toward the top, forming a seven-sided skylight. As is the case with most of Serra’s work, what’s happening underneath the sculpture is just as critical as the piece itself. Serra worked with a team of structural engineers and marine biologists to create an advanced underwater counterweight to ensure that the work, which clocks in at 735 tons, will stand tall—and buoyant—for many generations to come. MIA Park, Doha, Qatar; mia.org.qa/english.

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