Sculptor plants 50ft steel towers in Qatari desert

American sculptor Richard Serra has planted four 50ft towers in the Qatari desert for his lastest project entitled “East-West/West-East”.

The 74-year-old said in an interview with English newspaper The Independent that this project has been “the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” but went on to say that “it’s a piece that I’d really like to be seen, and I don’t know if it will.”

The sculptures are located in the middle of the desert in the Zekreet Peninsula on the west coast of Qatar, an hour’s drive from the capital, Doha.

The project features a total of four steel plates with gypsum plateaus, two of which rise 14.7m above the ground and the others 16.7m, which means that they are all level with each other.

Serra said that he has been visiting Qatar for the past 12 years where he was introduced to Sheikha Mayassa, chairperson of Qatar’s Museum Authority and sister of the country’s Emir by IM Pei, the famous architect behind Doha’s iconic Museum of Islamic Art.

Serra revealed in the interview: “When I first came Sheikha Mayassa said to me, ‘you should build a piece in the landscape’. I said ‘what landscape?’ She said, ‘the desert’.”

When the sculptor went to have a look at the location, he said the site at Zekreet “really caught my imagination. You have a ground plane and then an elevation of about 16 metres, so it’s a bit like you have two elevation planes within one field.”

Although the structures appear modern, built in smooth steel, the material is already beginning to acquire the russet patina of rust that is the trademark of Serra’s work.

The sculptor said: “I have a great relationship with Qatar. They’ve given me pretty much free rein to do what I wanted to do, with an unlimited budget and freedom to select the sites. In one instance- with the museum (a tower erected next to IM Pei’s museum)- I made the pier, we constructed the whole thing. This is a very rare situation. And artist couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Speaking of people’s reaction to the project he said: “You just have to present it and see how people react. You can’t spoon-feed…”, adding that Qatar as a country is “trying to jump centuries, and that’s a hard game. But it’s a phenomenon, there’s nothing quite like it.”