Wildest Dreams – ‘East-West/West-East’ by Richard Serra

Tijana in Qatar Doha in the midst of East-West/West-East Sculptures by Richard Serra  in Qatari Desert. Kalita dress.
Tijana at the Qatari desert. Richard Serra, East-West/West-East.

East-West/West-East by Richard Serra is what the wildest dreams are made of – bravado, creativity, making the impossible possible. When I booked a stopover in Doha, I instantly booked the desert trip to see those magnificent sculptures by Richard Serra. It is the idea first that enamored me. East-West/West-East is a public art piece that stands in the midst of the Qatari desert. There are no roads to get to this place, no maps, and no signs.

Tijana in Qatari Desert by Richard Serra's East-West/West-East

Kalita dress
Tijana in the magnificent Qatari desert. Richard Serra, East-West/West-East.



I consider space to be a material. The articulation of space has come to take precedence over other concerns. I attempt to use sculptural form to make space distinct.

– Richard Serra
Tijana in burnt orange Kalita dress leaning against East-West/West-East in Qatar.

Kalita dress
Tijana with Richard Sierra’s sculpture East-West/ West-East. Qatar. Dress by Kalita.

Richard Serra – East-West/West-East


East-West/West-East is a set of four standing steel plates rolled in Germany, shipped via boat, and offloaded, trucked, and out into specific place in the middle of nowhere in the Qatari desert. It is the largest, by area, of Richard Serra’s creations.

The steel will oxidize more quickly in the hot, salty conditions of the desert. The plates went from gray to orange to brown, until they turned a dark amber. I wished that I experienced all those changes, it makes it like life. They age and change with time.

Four large amber colored vertical steel Sculptures by Richard Serra  in the desert of Qatar
East-West/West-East by Richard Serra. Qatar. Photo by Tijana.

Getting There

A journey to the desert is part of this marvelous experience. I spoke with the driver how he navigates – he had extensive training with skilled guides where he learned to recognize marks in nature since there is no road or any kind of sign to get there.

Qatar horizon with large vertical steel structure by Richard Serra.
No roads to take you there. Brouq Nature Reserve. Qatar. Photo by Tijana.

Qatari Investment in Arts

I was very impressed with the Qatari investment in arts and the quality of museums. I heard somewhere that The Qatar Museums Authority is estimated to spend about a billion dollars per year on art. Emir’s sister, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, has been named in the past as the most powerful person in the art world and she is also a Head of Qatar Museums Authority. Qatar commissioned Richard Serra also for Sculpture ‘7’ nearby incredible I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Arts.

Oxidized steel plate of East-West/West-East Sculpture by Richard Serra against clear blue sky.
Steel plates were made in Germany. They oxidize over time to dark amber. Photo by Tijana.


Finding Place

Finding the right place for East-West/West-East was a delicate matter for Serra. It took a lot of consideration and trips to find the right one. I do understand that. He was drawn to the desert plateau between two inlets. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the former Emir, also shared his memory about the same spot. It was a place he remembered from his youth, where herds of antelope gathered. Subsequently, it all came together to everyone’s joy. Finally, Serra found the right framing for the installation and coexisting that does desert a justice. I also loved all that thought process.

3 of the 4 steel sculptures by Richard Serra in the Qatari desert
This was the selected place, a chalky plateau between two inlets. Here you can see 3 out of 4 plates. I love how you can have so many different views and experiences. Photo by Tijana.

Large steel Richard Serra’s sculpture, Tijana in a burnt orange Kalita dress, Doha desert skyline. Qatar.
Tijana. Richard Serra. Doha desert.


How it Feels

At first from the distance, you see one, and slowly as you approach you see the other steel column. Then, all the setting becomes alive and to see them all you need to walk and be part of that incredible experience. I never explored art in such a way – in a complete harmony with nature. The immensity of the desert, the remoteness, the quiet, as well as the sheer beauty of the landscape and art together is unforgettable.

Tijana in an orange Kalita dress standing by oxidized steel sculpture by Richard Serra in Qatar.
Tijana soaking it all in. Qatar. Richard Serra.

Sierra has the ambition and scale of the architect. His works question the structure, gravity, space, and the important component is the viewer itself. As an artist, he is very interested in how people interact with his sculptures. Time also interacts with his installations – his steel sculptures oxidize and change texture over time. I respected that organic process and loved that nature overtakes work once installed.

“A lot of people wanted to reduce sculpture to object making,” says art critic and historian Hal Foster, “but Serra reclaimed sculpture for space making.”

Saying Goodbye

Tijana walking in Qatar desert.

Kalita dress.
Tijana walking through the Zekreet desert for the last time. It was a transcendental life experience.
How it made me feel is hard to put in words.


It was truly hard to leave. I was limited by the time I booked, and I can easily imagine staying longer. When we were there some members of the royal family came and had tea in the desert. That sounded (and looked) so spectacular as they were raising a tent for the tea ceremony. Imagine that experience?

Tea in the desert. With Richard Serra’s masterpiece and beautiful desert landscape.

In the end, we took a drive all around twice that I can absorb it in a different way.

Somehow, the imagery of this magnificent place is forever etched in my memory and my heart. I am so humbled and grateful for moments like this in life.

If I am once more traveling through Doha, I would definitely make stopover and go back there again.

Just to be.

And, having tea there, would be divine.

Useful Info – Insider Travel Tips

The easiest way to get to Qatar is with Qatar Airlines. They are an excellent airline and have a stopover program for up to 4 days. Via their website, you can book 4- and 5-star hotels with discounted rate programs to see the country. It is a good idea to break long airplane trips to Asia.

For the trip to see Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East in the desert I would recommend that you book a driver or a tour in advance. I have used Inbound Tours Qatar. Everything was great.

To enjoy your trip, even more, remember that the desert during the day is hot even in November, so you will need to bring water. This is truly an amazing place, very remote with no shops around, so be prepared with sunscreen as well.


Photography

All the images belong to Tijana and Zest & Curiosity. Tijana art directed all images. If you enjoyed them, I will gladly share – for the conditions and right to use please reach me via Contact Form.

Where is It?

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18 comments

  • Bojana Ginn

    Transcendental and immensely inspiring!!

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you so much Bojana! I appreciate your comment. Transcendental is a great word to describe it. Otherworldly as well. It is an amazing idea realized. It is magical when it happens. I was so happy there. Follow your bliss darling.

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Oh, thank you for your kind words Whitney! I appreciate it. I think you would love this place. I have never seen anything like that. And trip is also part of the artistic journey. Hugs!

  • Ilmari

    I really like the contrast: desert, you and the orange dress

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you! That dress looks like it is made for desert. Yes, those contrasts are incredible, there is something so special in desert and how it is shaped by the art. It is very symbiotic and organic, totally fascinating. I wished I have seen the changes in steel over the time.

  • Andrej Vidovic

    Those photos!! My god! Phenomenal.

    I’ll get back to read the article as soon as I find some time, but I’ve seen the photos and couldn’t refrain from commenting!

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you so much Andrej. The place is a visual feast, but also impactful for inner heart and mind. So much looking forward to hear your thoughts.

      • Andrej

        I just had to re-read and take a look at those magnificent photos again. You’ve stressed the transcendence of the place at one point in the article and even on those images one can get the sense of what you speak. I can only imagine how overpowering the impression must be to see this live. So glad you had this experience.

        I like how another commenter made a remark on 2001: Space Odyssey artifacts. These do resemble in more ways than one.

        And the desert is such a natural setting for these structures. It wouldn’t have worked that good in any other surroundings, I think.

        • zestandcuriosity (author)

          Thank you so much for coming back Andrej and for this kind comment. It means a world to me that it brought you joy. Yes, it is such a unique place, it almost looks like past and future had merged together. You have to walk to experience it and that feeling you can hardly encapsulate in the words. There is a sense of awe. Freedom. Wonder. Peace. And it stays with you for a long time. The best thing is, that I can recall that feeling within. That is the power of the great art and the idea.

          I am truly so thankful to all the artists in this world that give us those singular experiences. Thank you!

  • Bea

    Super

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it.

  • Freshte

    What a magical road journey , i enjoyed dreaming about your words and pictures

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      I am so glad you enjoyed it Freshte! It is like dreaming awake. when I heard about this, I was so fascinated by the idea. And that they made it happen is wonderful. It is the stuff of dreams. Many hugs!

  • Ivana

    Magical landscape captured in fantastic photographs.
    The monoliths bring to mind the 2001 Space Odyssey.

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Yes, it is so surreal. It can belong to any time and makes you wonder. Thank you for your kind comments, it means a world Ivana. It is so wonderful that these kinds of places exist. Hugs!

  • Kas Oosterhuis

    During our 2 year stay in Doha we always took our friends there a have a picknick

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      That is amazing what you did Kas, you gave them an unforgettable experience. That place is so unique and special. I have never seen anything like it. I go over and over again there. Thank you for your lovely comment and for sharing your experience.

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