Dhe past few days have been busy in Doha. Jeff Koons’ new sculpture arrived on the Corniche. Workers smoothed the tartan surface of a playground designed by Shezad Dawood. And next to the old National Theater, a few small boulders were waiting to be stacked in the way Fischli and Weiss had imagined for their installation “One rock on top of another rock”. Now the countdown has ended, which on digital clocks across the city has brought the start of the soccer World Cup closer, for which incredible things have been conjured up.
Not just eight stadiums, subways, entire districts, hotels, restaurants and boutiques. The country has also invested a lot of money to present itself as a place of culture and art alongside all the sport. Forty sculptures for public spaces were acquired this year alone. And three other museum projects were launched, which already point to the time after the World Cup, when construction work will start again.
The ambition is unbroken
The ambition is unbroken in Qatar and, like in the neighboring countries on the Gulf, is ennobled with prominent names. In Doha, Jean Nouvel designed the National Museum, and IM Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art. The planned car museum will be contributed by Rem Koolhaas. The “Lusail Museum”, which will open in 2028 and will be dedicated exclusively to Orientalism and its (de)construction, was designed by Herzog & de Meuron. And the “Art Mill Museum” is the responsibility of Alejandro Alvaro, who these days often walks around between the granaries of the old mill, which are still in operation but will form the heart of his house in 2030.
It will, it is said, be devoted to contemporary and modern art drawn from the collection of Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The Sheikha is considered one of the richest art collectors in the world. She is the Emir’s sister and the director of Qatar Museums, the organization that oversees just about everything to do with art, design and museums.
The sheikha wears sneakers with a dark abaya at the Museum of Islamic Art, which has just reopened after months of renovations. The permanent exhibition has been re-hung, provided with a “family trail” and expanded. Right in the first room, for example, with the wall-filling calligraphic work “Infinite Expression” by the Afghan artist Ali Baba Awrang. He had taught calligraphy in a school in Kabul before he found shelter for a while in Qatar while fleeing the Taliban and was commissioned to do this work.
The key role that Qatar played in the evacuation of thousands of Afghans in the summer of 2021 was only recently referred to by the country’s foreign minister, when he accused German government representatives, among others, of double standards in their criticism of the World Cup. Similar tones are often heard in Qatar. The Sheikha also reacted annoyed (“I love these double standard questions from NYT journalists”) when asked by the presenter at the “Art for Tomorrow” talk in the museum about the climate costs of building in the desert. “In Berlin, people want to know why museums are late,” she says. “Here you ask why they are built at all.” The comparison is of course wrong. But the laughs in the hall are on their side.