At the entrance to “A Journey into the World of the Ottomans”, a just-finished, little-publicized exhibition at Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art that charts the development of the Orientalist art movement from the 16th to 21st century, a striking red wall ushers the viewer through a tall passage way into the first room of the show. Here, masterpieces that depict European visions of the world of the Ottomans hang on a wall punctuated by tall and narrow doorways. Glossy black flooring contrasts with yet more red wall and further white cube rooms. It is a remarkably different space to that of your average Orientalist exhibition yet the overall effect is one of balance, which is exactly what Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architects who created this temporary space, intended. As they reveal in an insightful explanation of their installation (see page XX), they painstaking considered the colours, proportions and shapes used in the scenography. Nothing was left to chance, creating an exhibition space that is in absolute harmony with the artwork on display. Alas, the show is over. Discover it here, alongside the intelligent commentary of Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron.

“Designing a space for an exhibition of art is not ordinarily the business of an architect. But it is actually one of architecture’s quintessential tasks: how can one create a space that gives viewers the best possible means of looking at a work of art? Or in more radical terms: how does one create architecture that gives people the best possible means of perceiving the world?

What does architecture of that kind feature? In approaching the concrete task of an exhibition on Orientalism, we kept asking ourselves new questions: should we divide the area into several rooms? Would a linear alignment of the rooms or a labyrinth arrangement be preferable? Would it make more sense to concentrate everything in one large space? How big is this space? How high is it, and what is the proportion of length to width? What about the light? Should there be daylight or artificial light or even a mixture of both? What should the floors and walls feel like? What kind of flooring is comfortable and yet not as comfortable as our living room at home? Should visitors have the opportunity to sit down? And if so, where? And how far away from the works of art? How are the works hung? By date, by artist, by style, by some other distinction? By subject matter or theme perhaps?

As with any task in contemporary architecture, there are no hard and fast rules. Answers to all of these questions vary depending on the location and the type of art. If an exhibition is successful, visitors usually remember only how exciting and interesting the viewing experience was, but rarely the exhibition architecture itself. That is also what should happen in this case, because exhibition architecture should not make a mark as a spectacle with entertainment value in its own right; it should be perfectly self-evident and even natural, enabling visitors to meet up with works of art as intimately and inspiringly as possible.”

- Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron

Although the notion of “Orientalism” is commonly perceived as a view from the West on the East, we believe that there is an opportunity to explore and appreciate the spaces in between. Although these works were mainly Western documentations of Eastern lands, the importance of this European art movement lies in that it recorded major historical events, people, customs and culture. One may debate the composition of the works and question its accuracy in its entirety – but one cannot deny the historical overview it gives us; nor the opportunity for discussion and reflection.

A Journey into the World of the Ottomans is broken down into several themes, reflecting the diversity and richness of this period. The exhibition is an attempt to illustrate the past and present, but also look at the continuous influence of this period to the contemporary day. The variation of themes and works takes us into a journey of discovery – one of political might, cosmopolitan culture, architecture, custom, colours and clothing that continue to fascinate young artists of today.

- Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
Chairperson of the Qatar Museums Authority