The Gulf nation of Qatar is ramping up its investment in the arts with plans to build three more museums in Doha, including the new Lusail museum which intends to house “the world’s most extensive collection of Orientalist paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, rare texts, and applied arts.”
The plans were announced on March 27 by Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the chairperson of the state body that oversees the Qatar Museums, during the online Doha Forum.
Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Lusail will be dedicated to the influence of Middle Eastern and Islamic art on the wider world. The four-story building will span 559,700 square feet and will include exhibition space, an auditorium, library, and educational hubs.
Rem Koolhaas’s architectural firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, will design the Qatar Auto Museum, which will chart “the evolution of the automobile from its invention through today and how it has influenced culture in Qatar,” according to the Qatar Museums.
The panel also touched on plans to renovate a disused flour mill on Doha’s waterfront promenade into the Art Mill, a creative campus that will feature more than 861,000 square feet of exhibition and performance space.
That project was first announced in 2015, with the Chilean architecture group Elemental leading the renovation. According to officials, the campus will accommodate artist residency programs and studio space for creatives, as well as conservation and storage facilities. The silos in the mill will be open to the public this October, Sheikha Al Mayassa shared at the Doha Forum.
Alejandro Aravena, the Pritzer Prize–winning director of Elemental, said at the panel, “The Art Mill will not just be a perfectly finished object but an opportunity for young designers, artisans, craftspeople in Qatar to come together to deliver the knowledge they have accumulated and contribute to the building, so that it not only houses a great collection but expands to more popular audiences.”
Over the last two decades, the small oil-rich nation has invested heavily in an ambitious museum development plan. In 2019, the Jean Nouvel–designed National Museum of Qatar opened on the busy waterfront, which is also home to the Museum of Islamic Art.
The government has not released a timeline or budget for the three new museums.
A major public art program has also been initiated ahead of the opening of the Fifa football World Cup this November. Forty recent and commissioned artworks by Qatari and international artists will be installed in various sites across Doha this year, including “parks and shopping areas, educational and athletic facilities, Hamad International Airport and Q-Rail stations, as well as select stadiums that will host the World Cup Games,” according to a statement from the Qatar Museums.
The works already on view include Untitled (Trench, Shafts, Pit, Tunnel and Chamber), 1978, by Bruce Nauman, Tom Claassen’s Falcon (2021) at the airport, and Two Orchids (2015) by Isa Genzken near the National Theater, in what the government is calling its new “outdoor museum.”
Qatar’s wide-ranging museum program is part of a push to rebrand the region’s image through cultural initiatives and expand its economy beyond oil. The neighboring country of Saudi Arabia previously unveiled its own open-air museum on Corniche in Jeddah, which holds 20 works by high-profile international and Gulf artists, including by Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, and Maha Malluh.
The ambitions of both countries, however, have yet to be reconciled with their sordid human rights records. International officials have decried the mistreatment of South Asian migrants hired by Qatar to build the World Cup stadium, a widespread issue at cultural projects across the Gulf. (The forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has been charged with similar allegations, which the museum has denied.) In 2017, the Qatar government introduced labor reforms to ensure better working conditions.