American minimalist sculptor and video artist Richard Serra’s work is said to be driven by a desire to take sculpture off its pedestal and onto the street. In fact, you couldn’t get much further off the street than in the Brouq nature reserve, where Serra’s magnificent work East–West/West–East spans more than a kilometre of desert in western Qatar.
Here, Serra, who is renowned for his creations involving large assemblies of sheet metal, has created a work of epic scale and wonder and a stark almost jolting beauty. It comprises four steel plates, each over 14 metres high.
According to Qatar Museums, which commissioned the work, to guarantee perfect alignment Serra examined the topography of the land and opted to complement the vast, desolate space in the heart of the desert.
According to a 2014 article in The New Yorker, the work arose from a conversation the artist had with Sheikha al-Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, a sister of the Emir of Qatar, and a hugely influential figure in the art world.
The article quoted Serra’s recollection of the moment. “She asked me, ‘Would you build a piece in the landscape?,’ and I said to her, ‘What landscape?,’ and she said, ‘The desert.’ ”
The resultant combination of man’s work and the vast, timeless arid beauty of this landscape is sublime. I visited the area and Serra’s work yesterday together with Parfums Christian Dior’s UAE-based executives Frank Dagher Hayeck and Ingrid Pineau, together with the French fragrance house’s legendary Perfumer and Creator François Demachy. Sunset here is an unforgettable time, a moment of ethereal beauty.
We were guests of Qatar Duty Free Vice President Operations Thabet Musleh, who was keen to showcase this amazing country to us. In fact, I’ve not ceased to be amazed ever since I arrived here on Saturday night. Doha is an eclectic, vibrant city that blends ultra-modernity with tradition and elegance. I love the respect for culture here, a dynamic that finds magnificent expression at Hamad International, one of the world’s great airports.
I spoke in a column this week about the wonder (and I don’t use the word lightly) of the airport’s Al Safwa First Lounge (pictured below), an exquisitely refined, serene, architectural masterpiece. It was inspired by the design of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art and embraces that cultural ethos with a beguiling combination of tranquility and refined rather than overstated sophistication.
And there’s much more to come from this extraordinary airport. Yesterday I had the great pleasure to meet and interview Hamad International Airport Chief Operating Officer Engr. Badr Al Meer (pictured below right with Thabet Musleh), a charming and driven man who takes daily energy, he told me, from the challenge of delivering a great airport and great consumer services to his country.
The airport’s next expansion phase will deliver increased capacity of over 60 million passengers (it’s currently 25-27 million on traffic expected to reach 37 million-plus this year) by the time it opens well in time for the opening match (15 November) of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“Every day is a new challenge,” Mr Badr told me. “The reason I accepted this job is for that challenge. This airport is one of the best facilities in the country… an icon in the Middle East and now considered one of the icons in the whole industry worldwide. Our challenge is how to raise the bar for ourselves. We are always challenging ourselves. We will never settle at one place and say, ‘Okay, we achieved that. Let us relax and let us sit back. We are happy where we are now.’
“And the good thing is that everybody working at the airport – all of the subsidiaries, stakeholders, government agencies – shares with us the same mindset. It’s about cooperation between all entities and stakeholders.”
Hamad International is notable within our industry for the common ownership of airline, airport and duty free company, another kind of ‘Trinity’, if you like, that ensures a rarely unified approach to growing the commercial pie while simultaneously ensuring the best possible customer service. No silo mentality here between operational and commercial imperatives. Look out for my interviews with Mr Badr and Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, coming soon, in which they explain why that model is – and always will be – the right one for Qatar.
I’ve discovered more about this fascinating country in the past three days than I had in multiple visits down the years. There is so much to appreciate here and I feel that I have just scratched the surface. I cannot wait to return to this place where, like Serra’s astonishing work, East meets West and West meets East.