A monumental mirage began with a memory. The former Emir of Qatar shared a childhood snapshot with sculptor Richard Serra – of antelope gathering on a gypsum plateau in the western Qatari desert. During the year Serra spent scouting locations for his second sculpture in Qatar – Sheikha al-Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of the Qatar Museums Authority had charged the American artist with “building a piece in the landscape” – Serra visited the poignant site in the Brouq Nature Reserve, describing it as “John Ford country, only much more evaporated.” Ergo the reciprocal resonance of the site-specific work’s title, East-West/West-East, which also references the latitudinal orientation of the four steel plates, irregularly planted along the chalky corridor. The monoliths stand between 48 and 55 feet tall – level with the plateaus – across a half-mile stretch connecting the borders of the desert peninsula, located about 35 miles outside Doha. The quartet is visible in toto from either end, and so far, the droves driving out to visit the site have made laps of its full length. The plates, rolled in Germany, are made of the same steel Serra has used in other pieces, so they will oxidize in the same way, albeit more quickly: in the two months since the sculpture’s unveiling, the desert has painted orange streaks on its charcoal grey walls, well on its way to the ultimate dark amber.
East-West/West-East writs large Serra’s genius for carving – with imposing metal strokes – timelessly intimate moments out of expanses, a practice particularly profound in the desert where people arrive attune to solitary contemplation. “This place makes a space within that place to walk and measure yourself against the rise and fall of the landscape,” Serra said. “[It] collects the space.” A rectilinear sanctum reflected in this column dress by Rick Owens, which (almost) abides by Qatar’s modest dress code calling for coverage from shoulders to knees. I would add a cardigan for decorum and desert winds.