One would be hard-pressed to find someone in Cape Town’s art world who doesn’t have strong feelings about the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA), which officially opened its doors to the public last week.
Debates surround everything about the institution, from who it is intended to serve, to whose work will be on view, to its financial role within Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront district where it is located, to its relationship and responsibility to the rest of Africa. Before the first exhibition review was printed, Zeitz MOCAA managed to elicit a fury of feelings, opinions, complaints, and passionate discourse of a kind most museums will never see.
As the name of the new institution suggests, its founding collection is on a lifetime loan from German entrepreneur and former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz. According to Zeitz himself, the controversy around the initiative is a good thing.
“If people don’t have a critical viewpoint and aren’t talking about something, it’s irrelevant,” he says. “So the fact that people are talking about it—sometimes even without knowing enough to actually comment on it—shows that it’s a relevant institution already. From that point of view I look at this positively and think we are entering into a critical dialogue.”
The largest museum in the world dedicated to contemporary African art, Zeitz MOCAA is a glistening architectural feat, designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick. Its 65,000 square feet of exhibition space are spread over nine floors in what was previously a series of grain silos. Classrooms, a performance space, a rooftop sculpture garden, and an onsite restaurant are now up and running, while the museum’s costume institute will launch later this year.
There are already more than 20 young people participating in a fully-funded year-long training program to bring young curators from throughout Africa to the museum.
Funded by Zeitz along with the V&A Waterfront—the corporation that since 1988 has been transforming Cape Town’s former harbor into what is now the most expensive real estate in Africa—with backing from GrowthPoint Properties and the Public Investment Corporation, the museum has been closely linked to capital since its inception. The V&A was planning a museum of some sort, and had even started working with Heatherwick before Zeitz and his collection entered the picture, but had no particular interest in, or knowledge of, the nuances of contemporary art. Read more