Olafur Eliasson: The Curious Desert
Qatar Museums presents The Curious Desert, a new exhibition conceived by Olafur Eliasson for a site in the desert outside of Al Thakhira Mangrove Reserve and for the galleries of the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, from 19 March through 15 August 2023. Located inside and outside the museum, the exhibition includes new site-specific works that continue to explore the Icelandic-Danish artist’s abiding interests in light and colour, geometric studies, ecological awareness and more-than-human relationships. The exhibition is presented as part of Qatar Creates, the year-round national cultural movement that curates, promotes, and celebrates the diversity of cultural activities in Qatar.
The Curious Desert, the first solo exhibition by Olafur Eliasson in the region, brings together a dozen site-specific desert installations at Al Thakhira and an extensive gallery presentation of artworks at the National Museum of Qatar.
Located in a sabkha habitat some 64 kilometres northeast of Doha, near the Al Thakhira Mangrove Reserve, twelve temporary pavilions enclose a series of new, experimental artworks that respond to the ephemeral natural phenomena of the local environment, such as sunlight, wind and water. A free shuttle bus to the outdoor location will run once a week. Starting from 25 March the bus will depart from the National Museum of Qatar every Saturday.
The first three outdoor pavilions explore optical phenomena, making use of rainbows, shadows and mirrors to create mesmerizing effects, while pavilions five through seven contain innovative drawing machines that enlist the elements of the sabkha habitat to create artworks that will later be displayed within the exhibition at the National Museum of Qatar. The final three pavilions bring this environment into dialogue with others, with materials such as obsidian and glacial mud from Iceland. Among the projects located in the twelve desert pavilions are:
Rainbow incubator – 11 prisms, arranged along the top of a reflective sphere according to the path of the sun at Al Thakhira, bend and break the daylight entering the sphere, causing it to appear at different times of the year as a perfectly circular rainbow.
Solar incense burner – A single glass sphere uses the rays of the sun to ignite a selection of scents typical of Qatar and the region – oud, musk, and amber, among others. Each burns for exactly one hour, functioning as a clock by marking the times of day in a variety of scents.
Your obsidian garden – Inspired by Eliasson’s hikes through volcanic obsidian fields in the Icelandic highlands, the artwork in this pavilion features black, shiny obsidian that stands out in stark contrast to the sandy ground, appearing to have erupted from beneath the desert.
Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, said, “The Curious Desert by Olafur Eliasson illustrates the power and problem-solving ability of art. Olafur’s profound body of work, including the new installations in the Qatari desert, opens an important dialogue about the environment, one of the most pressing topics of our time, in the context of our nation’s natural landscapes. This exhibition is unique in its presentation, which exists both inside and outside of the National Museum of Qatar, to further demonstrate how art is not confined to galleries, but is around us, everywhere, to inspire and educate.”
Eliasson and Qatar Museums worked with an ecologist to conduct an extensive survey of the site near Al Thakhira to ensure the protection of its native plants and non-human inhabitants, such as the Arabian Red Fox.
Inside the National Museum of Qatar, an extensive presentation of works from throughout the artist’s career invites viewers to situate themselves anew in relation to expansive light installations, photo series from Iceland, complex geometric studies, watercolours, optical devices, and a sprawling research map.
“It is an extraordinary opportunity to create artworks for the sabkha near Al Thakhira Mangrove Reserve. The sun, the wind, the nearby lagoon saltwater – they all help co-produce the artworks that visitors will encounter here. I hope the artworks in turn may sensitise people to the singular landscape and to the more-than-human agencies at work. The other half of my exhibition, at the National Museum of Qatar, is an assembly of embodied thoughts and actions from over 25 years of working as an artist. These two naturalcultural sites enrich each other – together they make up The curious desert.” – Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson: The Curious Desert
Location: Outside of Al Thakhira Mangrove Reserve
Duration: March 19 – August 15 2023