In contrast to Dubai and its countless independent galleries, Doha has a number of wonderful museums sponsored by the Qatar Museums Authority. With a number of art-minded investors, the city is quickly becoming the art capital of the Middle East, where astonishing collections of European and regional art often surpass those found in many western art centers. Here are the top ten art museums in Doha, Qatar.
Established in 2008, the Mathaf Al-Fann Al-Islami (Museum of Islamic Art) possesses one of the world’s most impressive collections of artworks crafted according to the traditional styles and techniques developed across the Middle East and central Asia. Visitors can find finely decorated ceramic ware, glass, and textile items, beautiful carpets, inlaid metalworks, and richly detailed antique manuscripts. The museum is housed in an iconic building, designed by award-winning architect Ieoh Ming Pei. Truly beautiful both inside and out, the building is coated with limestone that reflects the sunlight throughout the day. Located right at the end of a strip of land lying over the sea, you can also experience the striking scenery and a spectacular view of the Persian Gulf.
The National Museum of Qatar is an unmissable attraction in Doha. Designed by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the building is inspired by the petals of desert roses. It is composed of an eccentric series of interlocking discs of varying size, clad with sand-colored concrete. The discs were placed all around the historical Amiri Palace, the museum’s former venue, and are now arranged to resemble the traditional caravanserais found in the desert.
The MATHAF – Arab Museum of Modern Art is the centerpiece of modern and contemporary Arab art in Qatar. It is no coincidence that the first exhibition presented to the public after the museum’s opening in 2010 showcased a major selection of modern Arab artworks created over the course of the 20th century. All the exhibitions that followed, both solo and collective, have been exploring Arab artists’ achievements in painting, sculpture, and photography. The MATHAF also has a permanent collection of artworks from the early 1840s to the present day, and further promotes the understanding of Arab art through talks, lectures and learning programmes. Situated in a former school in Doha’s Education City, the MATHAF is the perfect place to get to grips with the most recent developments in the world of Arab art.
ALRIWAQ is a non-collecting exhibition space built in 2010, not far from the Museum of Islamic Art. The space was originally established as a temporary venue to host two exhibitions organized by the Arab Museum of Modern Art, but because of the successful design and the captivating location — with the nearby sea and Doha’s urban landscape as the backdrop — ALRIWAQ was transformed into a permanent gallery. It has since hosted some of the most important art shows seen in Doha; including Relics,the largest-ever retrospective of arguably the most successful contemporary living artist, Damien Hirst. The showcase of Hirst’s greatest hits, including his incredibly valuable diamond skull, his dead animals preserved in formaldehyde, and a selection of previously unseen artworks, has put Doha – and ALRIWAQ – on the international art map with a bang.
The Katara Art Center is a committed and passionate contemporary art incubator, located in Doha’s Katara Cultural Village, a coastal area filled with eateries, art spaces, and music venues. The center is wholeheartedly devoted to the support of local and regional art and design – to this end, the KAC hosts a gallery, where emerging local artists can showcase their work through a dynamic programme of exhibitions. The center’s mission is also reflected in a rich range of other initiatives — workshops, events, temporary projects — that not only position it as a prominent hub where young creative talents on Doha’s contemporary art scene can build a network and exchange ideas, but also connect it with the local communities, children included, to promote the understanding of current art practices.
Inaugurated in 2008, Al Markhiya Gallery is a contemporary art gallery showcasing the works of emerging and established painters, sculptors, and photographers, with a focus on regional artists. From September through to June, the gallery offers a program of rotating exhibitions, each lasting four to six weeks, which gives a panoramic overview of Qatar’s current contemporary art scene. In yet another attempt to foster Arab art, Al Markhiya also organizes 40 Minus, an initiative aimed at scouting promising but undiscovered local talents aged under 40. Along with other exhibiting spaces, Al Markhiya is situated in an art center within Doha’s Souq Waqif, a large, historical open-air market selling handicrafts, culinary specialties, and traditional fabrics.
Anima Gallery was named after Greek philosopher Aristotle’s idea of art as an extension of the individual’s soul (which is the meaning of the word anima). Found on the artificial island The Pearl, the recently established Anima Gallery wishes to connect the Arab contemporary art world with the international scene by exhibiting both regional and foreign artists. Qatari talents such as Youssef Ahmad, a Doha-born artist known for his collage-based paintings inspired by the Arab deserts, and painter Amal Al-Aathem, are found in the gallery’s roster together with British Jason Martin, Portuguese Nuno De Matos and Lebanese Baal painters. Next to the exhibition space, visitors of Anima Gallery can enjoy a light meal or drink while flicking through art magazines in the hip and trendy Anima lounge.
The Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar is at the end of a line that originates in Richmond, USA, where the mother university is located. With art history, graphic design and interior design academic programmes, the VCUQatar has established itself as a center of excellence for education and research in art and design. Part of its pride is the university’s gallery, where the work of exciting international artists is presented to the public. Among others, exhibitions have showcased the work of Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj, who mounts his colorful studio portraits in frames that are as meaningful and visually upbeat as the main images; Colombian Mariana Heilmann, an artist investigating microscopic shapes and the repetitions of patterns across a varied range of media; and EgyptianFathi Hassan, best known for his typographical experimentations of ancient languages.
East Wing gallery calls itself ‘an international platform for photography’. Indeed, other than its activity in Doha, and a new space opening soon in Dubai, East Wing’s staff are also busy curating and commissioning projects around the world. The gallery focuses on thought-provoking contemporary photography with socially relevant themes, and represents works of many emerging to mid-career international artists. Among the best known are World Press Photo winner Philippe Dudouit, and multitalented Phillip Toledano, who put his art to test across a range of media and contexts, and always with success.
East Wing does not have a permanent exhibition space in Doha. Please check the gallery’s website for upcoming projects.
Named after Doha-born businessman Sheikh Faisal due to his life-long devotion to arts and culture, the museum displays a remarkable collection of 15,000 artworks passionately researched and gathered around the world over the last 50 years. The museum’s possessions are grouped into four main collections: Islamic Art, which comprises further subgroups of arms, ceramics, textiles, metalworks, and others; Qatar Heritage, a section dedicated to local manufactures; Vehicles, including a few rare Ford T cars; and CoinsandCurrency, a special collection of coins and banknotes from the Islamic world. The Sheikh Faisal Museum is located in Al Samriya – a mere half an hour away from Doha – in a historical, four-towered fort that deserves to be seen almost as much as the art.