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What is the story behind "7" by Richard Serra?

24 September 2020

If you’ve visited MIA park, then you can’t have missed the towering structure of Richard Serra’s monolithic metal sculpture “7”. One of Serra’s tallest works at twenty-four metres, it’s constructed from seven large weathered steel pieces welded into a heptagon – a seven-sided form.

Commissioned by Qatar Museums on the personal recommendation of I.M.Pei – the celebrated architect who built the adjacent Museum of Islamic Art, the work was completed in 2011. It has now firmly established itself as an iconic form contrasting the Doha skyline and the glittering sea behind it.

Serra is widely known for his dramatic site-specific sculptures that change over time in response to environmental conditions. This is evident with "7", as it was constructed using a particular type of steel, which in addition to the rusty orange has developed a surface of blue and green as a result of exposure to extreme heat, water and air.


A tall heptagon shaped column stands on land jutting out in the sea with Doha's skyline in the background
The sculpture "7" stands on 250 meters of man-made land.

The sculpture was inspired by Serra’s personal exploration of Islamic architecture, particularly minarets, which he studied in different countries, from Spain to Yemen. He was also motivated by the work of Abu Sahl al-Quhi, a 10th-century Persian astronomer and mathematician who developed the idea of a seven-sided structure. The title of the piece is also notable, as the number seven has spiritual significance in Islamic culture.

If you are someone who struggles with contemporary art, then Serra has some encouraging words for you. “What I think is interesting about this piece is that you don’t have to know anything about art - you’re just going to get an experience that’s different from most other sculptures. Then you can digest how or why it’s different.”

Born in 1938, Serra grew up on the west coast of the United States, the second son of immigrant parents. As a young child, he watched his father work in steel mills, exposing him to industrial metal production at an early age. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, instead, he opted to study painting at Yale University and graduated in 1964.



A wide shot of the sculpture with an expanse of sea and a foggy skyline in the background
"7" is Richard Serra's first public art sculpture in Qatar, the second is the famous "East-West/West-East".

In 1966, he began working on sculptures using non-traditional materials. By ’69, he had started to focus on works designed for display outdoors and continues today to be a fierce advocate for art in public parks, removed from the formality of a museum environment.

You can visit "7, 2011" at MIA park. Be sure to snap amazing photos and share them with @qatar_museums on Instagram. Use the Hashtag #OurPublicArt when you post a photo!

Check back in for more posts on public art pieces around Qatar.



the sculpture with the Museum of Islamic Art in the background
"7" is Richard Serra's tallest sculpture.

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