History: Why Hamad Int’l Airport Has a 23ft. Teddy Bear on Display

by SharonKurheg

Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (DOH), located east of the country’s capital of Doha, opened its doors in April, 2014. Originally scheduled to open in 2008, it suffered through several costly delays, mostly due to money-related squabbles between the airport’s management and contractors.

However months before the airport ever had its first passenger walk through its door, it already touted a centerpiece in the grand foyer leading to the airport’s duty-free hall. It was (and still is) a 23 foot tall, 17.5 ton sculpture of a teddy bear and a desk lamp.

a large yellow stuffed bear with a black lamp

PC: Hamad International Airport

Here’s what the airport have to say about it. From their website:

Lamp Bear by Swiss artist Urs Fischer takes centre stage in the grand foyer leading to HIA’s world-class duty-free hall. It is a 23-foot canary yellow teddy bear sculpted from bronze, that sits peacefully inside a lamp. It’s a playful piece that humanises the space around it and reminds travellers of childhood or precious objects from home.

In Lamp Bear, Swiss artist Urs Fischer combines memory with scale, creating simultaneously a monument and a vision. Scale defines our experience with art and particularly with sculpture. The scale doesn’t necessarily mean smaller or bigger. It means placing the viewer in a different relation to the reality he or she is familiar with. Memory is not just the past but a way to reimagine our lives.

Lamp Bear welcomes guests at Doha’s airport and celebrates the idea of travel, just as the artist celebrates travelling back in time to the symbols of childhood – a place we have all been to and where, once in a while, we like to go back.

The yellow bear and its lamp are both playful and impressive: The coming of age of a simple toy into a full-grown artwork.

The iconic piece is located at the South Node of the terminal, just after departures security and passport control.

How/why did it get there?

As DOH said, the sculpture was made by contemporary visual artist Urs Fischer. Born in Switzerland, Fischer, who makes his living via sculpture, photography and installation, currently lives in New York.

Fun Fact! Urs means “bear” in Latin.

Officially titled Untitled (Lamp/Bear) and commonly known as simply Lamp Bear, the sculpture was produced in 2005/2006 and is one of an edition of 3. The other two sculptures (one blue, one yellow) are both privately owned. The blue one, on loan from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection, graced the campus of Brown University from 2016 to 2020 (its nickname was Blueno).

In 2011, Christie’s, the British high end auction house, installed the bear sculpture in New York City, in front of the Seagrams Building on Park Avenue.

a large yellow balloon in the middle of a busy city street

PC: Teri Tynes / Walking Off The Big Apple (used with permission)

It was only up temporarily; about 5 months. Christie’s goal was to bring attention to their then-upcoming auction, since the bear sculpture was going to be part of it. Their plan worked. When Lamp/Bear was auctioned that May, the winning bid, just over $6.8 million, was reportedly offered by a member of the Qatari royal family (at six times the highest auction amount Fischer had ever gotten for a sculpture, it was a new world record for the artist).

And, let’s face it – if the royal family of Qatar wants a 23-foot sculpture of a teddy bear in their country’s then soon-to-open airport, that’s what happens.

The rest is history.

But why a teddy bear?

No idea. I suppose you’d have to ask the Qatari royal family about that decision.

Lots of people love Lamp/Bear. Kids adore it, of course. It’s been called cute, and endearing, and if you ever need directions, it’s easy enough to know to make a left to go to Concourse A (or a right to go to Concourse B) at the big, canary yellow teddy bear.

However more than one person has written about their distaste for the statue. It’s been called:

I hear them. I mean, lots of “art” in airports at least makes some sort of sense in relation to where it is.

  • Tampa International Airport’s newest art installation is a 21-foot-tall flamingo. But flamingos are a “thing” in Florida, so yeah, it makes sense.
  • Orlando International Airport has had The Traveler on display since 1986. But again, “traveler.” Yep.

a man sleeping on the ground

  • Los Angeles International Airport is home to a work of art called “Elevate.” Each paper plane (again, makes sense) was made from Japanese paper printed with excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the third and fourth Geneva Conventions.

Of course, not all art installations in airports are so concretely obvious; some are there pieces that don’t seem to quite make sense.

  • The murals at Denver International Airport, which include fire, dead bodies and terrified children, just seem to feed into peoples’ conspiracy theories about DIA.
  • An airplane (granted, it makes sense) made out of corn (makes no sense) hangs from the ceiling of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

  • And, I suppose, a giant teddy bear that combines memory with scale, creating simultaneously a monument and a vision.

What can I say? Art isn’t easy. (thank-you, Mr. Sondheim)

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