Earlier this year I travelled to Doha, Qatar to see Takashi Murakami's exhibition "Ego" curated by Massimiliano Gioni. While I was a first-timer to the region, Fiammetta Rocco (The Economist's Editor of Books and Art) had first visited the city 20 years ago and pointed out some of the staggering changes to the landscape. In an article, "Qatar’s culture queen" March 2012 the following excerpt is particularly insightful:
"Until the 1980s Qatar was little more than a sandy backwater. Even its native pearl industry was on its last legs. The discovery of oil and, later, of the third-largest gas reserves in the world have made the pear-shaped peninsula unusually rich. In 2010 its tiny population had the third highest per capita GDP in the world and its economy grew by 16.6%, faster than any other. But even Qatar's oil and gas will one day run out. Transforming the country from a hydrocarbon economy to a knowledge economy in time for the post-oil afterlife is the local mantra."
The Art Newspaper named Qatar the world’s biggest buyer in the art market—by value, at any rate—and is behind most of the major modern and contemporary art deals over the past six years Over the past seven years, the Qatari royal family has spent an estimated £1bn on Western art.
Takashi Murakami's Ego was a splendid affair, and the artist's largest show ever. Hosted at the Al Riwaq exhibition space adjacent to the Museum of Islamic Art, the exhibition was housed in 10 galleries. The piece de resistance was surely the 100m long Arhat Painting.
Spotted at the "Murakami Ego" opening party were mega dealer Larry Gagosian and Ukraine's Victor Pinchuk among many other curators, dealers and collectors.
Over the next three days we visited the permanent collection of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) before checking out American sculptor Richard Serra's landmark 78-foot structure "7". Situated on a man-made 250 foot projection of land surrounded by water, the sculpture is part of the sixty-two acre park outside Qatar's Museum of Islamic Art. Made of steel, the piece is intended to eventually reach a rusted shade. Titled "7" the sculpture consists of seven steel plates-- each eight feet wide, four inches thick, and twenty-four meters high and are arranged to form three triangular openings into which the we may enter. The number 7 is said to be a digit which has had scientific and spiritual significance.
The late French American artist Louise Bourgeois had 32 pieces on display in an exhibition titled "Conscious and Unconscious" at the QMA Gallery. The first in-depth survey of the work of this artist in the middle east consisted of sculptures, installation works, gouaches, and fabric pieces dated from 1947 to 2009. "In a body of work dominated by dualities and polarities – active and passive, male and female, figurative and abstract, geometric and organic, mother and father, murder and suicide – the dynamic between conscious and unconscious is perhaps the most significant."