Qatar showcases Belgian painter Luc Tuymans in major exhibition

Flemish Village (1995) by Luc Tuymans (Belgium).
Flemish Village (1995) by Luc Tuymans (Belgium). PHOTO: STRAITS TIMES

DOHA (AFP) - A retrospective of the works of acclaimed Belgian artist Luc Tuymans opened in Doha Sunday as Qatar reinforces its position as a global art centre with one of its largest-ever exhibitions.

Featuring about 100 paintings and 80 drawings, Intolerance showcases Tuymans's work back to the 1970s and includes a new work - The Arena - specifically for the exhibition in the Gulf.

The show, two years in the planning, is Tuymans's first in the Gulf and he described it as "very, very big enterprise".

Tuymans, who hails from Antwerp, said he was attracted to exhibit in Qatar because of "its clear interest" in his work and its commitment to art.

"The fact that it (Qatar) is a Gulf state that puts its money into culture and intelligence - they don't have to do that," he said.

The works have been drawn from private collections, galleries and art institutions from around the world.

The Doha exhibition comes following a personal invitation to Tuymans from Sheikha Al-Mayassa al-Thani, chair of Qatar Museums, who was named as "Queen of the Art World" by Forbes magazine earlier this year.

Among the paintings on display at the cavernous Al Riwaq gallery in central Doha include a portrait of the former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an oblique view of a 2003 meeting between Colin Powell and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Prisoners of War, an image of allied pilots shot down in the first Gulf War.

It also features six new wall paintings reproducing original works that he could not bring to Doha, which he completed in two days just before the exhibition began.

These paintings will be destroyed after the exhibition closes at the end of January next year.

The Belgian admits he had "problems with some of the collectors" to get his work transported to Doha.

But he rejects any criticism of exhibiting in Qatar, saying it is important to show major works in the Middle East.

"This is why it (the exhibition) is important and actually necessary. This show is about dialogue, or the opening up of it," he said.

Tuymans is the latest big name to exhibit in Qatar, after Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst and Richard Serra in recent years.

Jean-Paul Engelen of Qatar Museums said bringing contemporary exhibitions helps foster "an existing culture of artistic appreciation and participation in Qatar".

Away from major exhibitions, Qatar has also made headlines in recent times for buying major works of art including Cezanne's "Card Players", worth up to US$300 million (S$415 million).