Big Sculpture, Big Opinions: Richard Serra Talks Middle Eastern Politics

Richard Serra hasn’t minced words in the lead-up to his solo exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Paris, speaking up about everything from the Arab Spring to his feelings about art world power-player Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Expressing his hopes about the reception of “7,” a sculpture recently unveiled at Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), Serra told reporters, “If they only come to shop, they will learn nothing.”

The 72-year-old sculptor was nevertheless moved by the careful treatment of the piece by the state’s ruling dynasty. “One evening during the installation, Sheikha Moza and Sheikha Al Mayassa visited the site and climbed the scaffolding to get a better grasp of the sculpture,” he told Le Quotidien de l’Art, “Can you imagine an American president visiting an artist as a piece is being put together?”

Speaking with Le Monde, Serra credited Qatar for being “the only country in the region to have sent troops to Libya.” While conceding that it was unlikely that Qatar would experience the changes in civil society seen in Egypt or Tunisia, he asserted with some pride, “If the question is, ‘Would you work in Saudi Arabia?’ the answer is no. Nor, for the moment, would I work in Syria.”

In the same breath, Serra also spoke about the reception of his politically divisive work in the United States: “I worked for my own government and they destroyed my work!” he told Le Monde, referencing the controversy that surrounded “Tilted Arc,” a sculpture of his that once stood in the Jacob Javits Federal Building in downtown Manhattan before a court yielded to neighbors’ demands for its removal. “Today, if I work in the United States, it is on private commission.”

Reid Singer

Courtesy of Qatar Museums Authority