curious desert Olafur Eliasson's
The curious desert, Olafur Eliasson’s Solo Exhibition
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Qatar Museums presents The curious desert, Icelandic–Danish artist Olafur Eliasson‘s first solo exhibition in the Gulf region. It brings together his new site-specific installations located in the desert and the artworks created over 25 years of his career (these are being displayed at the National Museum of Qatar). The exhibition will be open until 15 August 2023.

The outdoor part of the show is situated in a sabkha habitat near the Al Thakhira Mangrove Reserve, Northern Qatar, and comprises twelve pavilions. In the exhibited installations, Eliasson continues to explore light, colour, and geometry and raise ecological awareness. It is worth noting that the artist and Qatar Museums worked with an ecologist to conduct a survey of the site near Al Thakhira to ensure the protection of its native flora and fauna.

Some of the installations are based on optical phenomena. In Rainbow incubator (2023), for instance, the sunlight bends through a particular arrangement of glass prisms to make a rainbow. The core of the Slow solar event (2023) installation is two perpendicularly intersecting elliptical discs glazed with three tones of dichroic (colour-effect filter glass). The colours produced on the floor (cyan, magenta, and yellow) change during the day; when the shadows overlap, the colours mix to create red, green, and blue.

Olafur Eliasson, Slow solar event, 2023. Al Thakhira, Qatar – 2023. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy of Olafur Eliasson.

Three pavilions display peculiar drawing machines. In Solar-drawing observatory (Large spheres) (2023) and Solar-drawing observatory (Small spheres) (2023), different-sized glass spheres are used to focus the sunlight to burn lines onto a sheet of fireproof paper over the course of the day. In Saltwater-drawing observatory (2023), wind moves drawing utensils to drip water mixed with black and white pigments onto slowly spinning canvases, leaving marks on them.

Olafur Eliasson, Saltwater-drawing observatory, 2023. Al Thakhira, Qatar – 2023. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy of Olafur Eliasson.

Among the displayed installations are also Your glacial-dust garden (2023) in which rock dust from Greenland is used (this material can potentially revitalise depleted soil); Your pearl garden (2023) made up of glass spheres resembling pearls; Your obsidian garden (2023) inspired by volcanic obsidian fields in Iceland; and Your oil-spill garden (2023) that uses tar residue recovered from a beach in Qatar after an oil spill.

Olafur Eliasson, Your obsidian garden, 2023. Al Thakhira, Qatar – 2023. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy of Olafur Eliasson.

The indoor part of the exhibition at the National Museum of Qatar features the art pieces Eliasson created in different periods of his career: light installations, geometric sculptural works, series of photographs taken in Iceland; and optical devices. The gallery also showcases the pieces produced by the Solar- and Saltwater-drawing machines.

The indoor exhibits include, for example, Algae Window (2020). Made up of glass spheres, it resembles the structure of diatoms, a type of algae removing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing oxygen. Another artwork on display is Eye See You (2006): a monofrequency bulb placed in the centre of a mirror-polished bowl to reflect viewers in it. One can also admire The living lighthouse (2023). Broad bands of colourful light crawl across the walls of the room and wrap visitors in a vibrant shifting light installation.

Installation view, The curious desert. The Eye See You artwork is at the lower right. National Museum of Qatar, Doha – 2023. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy of Olafur Eliasson.

“The curious desert by Olafur Eliasson illustrates the power and problem-solving ability of art. Olafur’s […] work […] opens an important dialogue about the environment […] in the context of our nation’s natural landscapes,” HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, said. “This exhibition is unique in its presentation, which exists both inside and outside of the National Museum of Qatar, to further demonstrate how art is not confined to galleries, but is around us, everywhere, to inspire and educate.”

To learn more about The curious desert, please visit the show’s official web page.

You may also be interested in looking at Olafur Eliasson’s installation Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day.