Stopover in Doha, open-air art

A few weeks before the Football World Cup, the Qatari capital unveils its stadiums and museums with extravagant lines. Spotlight on a city where art is an ambition.

Doha is first a silhouette. A sparkling skyline between sea and desert. Of the old port of al-Bidda, where the entire Arabian Peninsula came to buy pearls, there is almost nothing left. One of the few remains is the al-Salatah Palace to the east of the bay, built during the time of the British Protectorate. Restored many times, the house seems too new but no matter, its adobe walls and wooden gutters embody tradition. Around it unfolds an interlacing of curved discs, forming the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ), with a very Hollywood scenography. Its pavilions without right angles were imagined by Jean Nouvel, inspired by the rose of the sands, a crystal formation which is revealed in the hollow of the Saharan dunes. The eminent French architect is one of many Pritzker Prize winners the emirate has appealed to in recent years. Each project is freely inspired by traditional Arab architecture, drawing a futuristic city that does not forget its identity.

Urban geometry

White marble vessel, the National Library designed by Rem Koolhaas. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Advancing on an artificial peninsula at the end of the corniche, the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) dazzles with its pure beauty. A cubic sandstone fortress, this masterpiece designed by Ieoh Ming Pei seems to have come out of a painting by Braque. The MIA was the first order in a long series; after work, it will reopen on October 5 with an enriched collection. In the heart of Education City, the university district of Doha, large spaces crushed by the sun shelter buildings that are surprisingly avant-garde. Designed by Mangera Yvars Architects, the organically shaped mosque covered in Arabic calligraphy soars skyward with two pointed minarets, symbolizing knowledge and light. To show the importance that the al-Thani family places on education, the Japanese Arata Isozaki created the Ceremonial Court, a monumental esplanade surrounded by passageways pierced with mashrabiyas where students receive their diplomas. Not far away, the National Library in the shape of an inclined diamond, in glass and corrugated steel, offers an impressive height under the ceiling. Housing almost a million books, it is free for all. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, this ideal library, where temporary exhibitions and concerts are organized, embodies the progressive showcase of the small emirate which dreams of becoming an artistic hub. This proactive cultural policy is the work of a woman, the Emir’s sister, Sheikha al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, who transformed Doha into a huge open-air art gallery bringing together the more rated.

Art at the border of luxury

Pei’s Geometric Poetry at the Museum of Islamic Art. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Strolling through the bustling alleys of Souk Waqif, a surprisingly clean but not without charm replica of an authentic Bedouin market, a gleaming thumb from Caesar pops up. The giant sculpture is one of many public works of art scattered around and around the city. One of Sheikha al-Mayassa’s earliest acquisitions is an installation by Richard Serra in the desert northwest of Doha. Composed of four steel plates 14 meters high placed along a natural corridor formed by gypsum plates, it changes color with erosion, inviting viewers to reflect on the passage of time.

The Katara Towers inspired by the crossed swords, emblem of the emirate. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Initially, Qataris did not understand contemporary art. They were content to take selfies in front of the works, then they gradually got used to them and now appreciate the installations.», observes Muna al-Bader. The young artist, one of the main ambassadors of Qatari art to Unesco, creates frescoes on the walls of the Katara village, not far from the gleaming Lusail stadium which will host the 2022 World Cup final. exhibition in Egypt in 2007, Muna met with great success, especially with the emir’s sister who owns several of her works. Longines, Rolex, The Conran Shop… The list of his collaborations could make more than one artist in Europe pale. Working with major luxury brands is nothing exceptional for a Qatari artist», explains Asma Derouiche, director of Studio 7, the new space dedicated to designers in Doha. It is located in the heart of Msheireb, a residential district in the making where elegant women in vaporous abayas and men in long immaculate tunics crowd. Between the concept store and the gallery, Studio 7 houses original pieces such as beautiful Sadu carpets, this traditional Bedouin weaving, with contemporary patterns. Alongside a highly marketed offer for the general public, the Qatari art scene also offers more cutting-edge creations that can be discovered at the Fire Station, a former fire station with a bronze honeycomb facade, transformed into a center d’art, where we were able to discover the latest exhibition dedicated to Virgil Abloh.

Initially, Qataris did not understand contemporary art. They were content to take selfies in front of the works, then they gradually got used to them and now appreciate the installations.

The Lego-style Twin Towers in the emerging district of Lusail. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

The Brutalist-looking building also houses several artists’ studios, which are rather discreet. Freedom of expression is still limited even if the emirate opens up to more militant personalities like Kader Attia, to whom a major exhibition was dedicated at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, lost in the middle of Education City. If the building plays on sobriety, its permanent collection, still modest, houses some nuggets like the photographs of the Saudi Manal al-Dowayan, the Middle Eastern Cindy Sherman. His work participates in young contemporary Arab creation which should find a more prominent exhibition space in the future Lusail museum designed by Herzog & de Meuron to highlight the dialogue between East and West.

Three daily Paris-CDG-Doha flights, from €907 round trip. Information and reservations on qatarairways.com.


Practical notebook

SEE

The Fire Station

Garage Gallery is a former fire station. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Former fire station, then civil defense headquarters, this brutalist building in bronze and concrete was transformed in 2014 into a contemporary art gallery of 700 m2, Garage Gallery, with studios upstairs hosting around twenty local and regional artists in residence. The renowned Qatari architect, Ibrahim Al Jaidah carried out the project, respecting the minimalist spirit of the original building, probably one of the most interesting in the city. Free admission.

Information on current exhibitions Firestation.org.qa

Education City

The immense university district of Doha shelters the emanations of the most prestigious universities. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Emerging from the desert twenty years ago, the immense university district of Doha is home to the offshoots of the most prestigious universities, Cornell, Georgetown, HEC… The reigning Al-Thani family has not skimped on investments to offer this the best of Qataris: a national library by Rem Koolhaas, a designer esplanade for graduation ceremonies, a futuristic mosque, museums including the Mathaf, dedicated to contemporary Arab creation, and the gleaming Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum inaugurated in the spring of 2022.

TO STROLL

The bazaars

Not far from the Corniche, Souq Waqif is a nice surprise. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

In the heart of the city, not far from the Corniche, the Souq Waqif is a nice surprise. This reconstruction of a Bedouin market offers a labyrinth of alleys lined with traditional mud houses, a little too clean but full of life. We stroll between stalls of all kinds: spices, perfumes, jewelry, carpets, birds, including a section reserved for falcons… Opened in 2004, it was immediately adopted by the Qataris, seated with family on restaurant terraces or smoking shisha between friends.

Heenat Salma Farm

This eco-designed organic farm is a first in Qatar. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

About thirty kilometers southwest of Doha, this eco-designed organic farm is a first in Qatar. Located in an old oasis, Heenat Salma Farm is composed of a central building and 12 refined Bedouin tents. The tadelakt on the wall, the beautiful wooden furniture and the embroidered cushions come from India or Morocco, but all the restaurant’s vegetables have been grown in the adjacent bioclimatic greenhouses. People come here to practice the art of braiding, doing yoga, horseback riding… From €600 per night, activities included. Heenatsalma.earth

TO TASTE

Nobu-Restaurant

Akin to the Four Seasons, the Nobu restaurant brilliantly offers the chef’s bestsellers. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Perched on the water in Doha Bay, the Qatari address of the famous Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa and Robert de Niro first impresses with its slightly futuristic aesthetic. Akin to the Four Seasons, the Nobu restaurant brilliantly offers the chef’s bestsellers: the famous black cod with yuzu miso sauce, numerous tempuras, including Wagyu beef… Everything is fresh and unrivaled in finesse. On weekends, expatriates flock to brunch, where you have to book on the terrace as long as it’s not too hot. From €100. Such. +974 4 494 8600. Noburestaurants.com

Jiwan by Ducasse

“Jiwan” is on the top floor of the National Museum of Qatar. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

The most beautiful pearl, “jiwan” is on the top floor of the National Museum of Qatar. In the kitchen, executive chef Philippe Duc revisits great Qatari recipes with a French twist. The result is refined and extremely generous in a glamorous setting where Zwarosvki pearls line the walls, reminiscent of the oysters that were the emirate’s first wealth. Designed by the Australian firm Koichi Takada, the decoration of Jiwan was inspired by its history, declining tones of beige and blue that evoke the dunes and the sea. From €50. Such. +974 4 452 5725. Jiwan.qa.

DREAM

Mandarin Oriental

The Mandarin Oriental hotel celebrates Qatari traditions without ever forgetting its Asian origins. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

Dominating a square in the heart of Msheireb, the new pedestrian center of Doha, the Mandarin Oriental hotel celebrates Qatari traditions without ever forgetting its Asian origins. In charge of the decoration, the London studio David Collins used shades of colors and patterns reminiscent of the ripples of the sea and the desert. From the magnificent Italian white marble bathrooms, to the 3000 m2 spa, to the restaurants including the exquisite Liang, offering a Cantonese immersion, each space is a success. From €370 per night. Such. +974 4 008 8888. Mandarinoriental.com

Hotel Mondrian

The Qatari hotel by Marcel Wanders is in the image of the Dutch designer, between minimalism and a provocative spirit. Michel Figuet for Le Figaro

In a skyscraper in the West Bay business district, the Qatari hotel by Marcel Wanders is in the image of the Dutch designer, between minimalism and a provocative spirit. From the white and gold lobby to the restaurants and bars all in half-light and subdued light to the pool on the top floor shimmering under a sky of hyper-colored stained-glass windows, the worlds change from one floor to another. The designer offers a very dreamlike interpretation of Qatari culture, using avant-garde materials and techniques. From €220 per night. Such. +974 4 045 5555. Sbe.com

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