Following the successful launch in 2008 of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, the Qatar Museums Authority has announced that on December 30 it will open a new museum dedicated to showcasing modern and contemporary Arab art from the 1840s through today. Called the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art ("mathaf" means museum in Arabic), the institution will join an Middle Eastern arts landscape that in recent years has been undergoing tremendous infrastructural growth, from the birth of art fairs across the United Arab Emirates to the ambitious museum enclave being built on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island.
Holding a collection of more than 6,000 works, Mathaf will for the time being occupy a 59,000-square-foot former schoolhouse that has been redesigned by French architect Jean-Francois Bodin to contain two floors of galleries, a café, a museum shop, and an education wing that features a research library. A permanent site for the museum, directed by Wassan Al-Khudairi, will be revealed at a later date.
Mathaf’s inaugural exhibition will be "Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art," a survey of more than 100 artists co-curated by Al-Khudairi and Nada Shabout, director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute at the University of North Texas. ("Sajjill" can be roughly translated as the act of recording.) Two other exhibitions organized by Mathaf will also go debut on the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art: "Told/Untold/Retold," a show featuring commissions by 23 Arab artists that will be one of the first major contemporary art exhibitions held in the region, and "Interventions," which will highlight five modern Arab artists. Both shows will remain on view through the end of May 2011.
The new museum has been a project of the government-sponsored Qatar Foundation along with the Qatar Museums Authority, which is chaired by the daughter of the country's emir, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, along with Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al-Thani, a longtime collector and Mathaf's founder who serves as vice-chair.
"When QMA opened the Museum of Islamic Art, we made Qatar the place to see and appreciate the greatest treasures of a vast and vital heritage, which spans centuries and cultures," Sheikha Al Mayassa said in a statement. "Now, with the opening of Mathaf, we make Qatar the place to see, explore and discuss the creations of Arab artists of the modern era and our own time. As we reveal this body of exciting, important but previously little-seen artworks, we demonstrate that the world can continue to look to Qatar for new possibilities and surprising experiences."