Will the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which will open on 22 September in Cape Town, South Africa, set a new benchmark for private museums? Billed as Africa’s first major contemporary art museum, Zeitz MOCAA is entirely privately funded, but the level of its ambition in every aspect of its operations—from collection building and programming to fundraising and governance—sets it apart from the scores of private institutions that have opened around the world in recent years.

Whether the vast Thomas Heatherwick-designed museum lives up to its initial promise remains to be seen. Paradoxically, its future success lies in establishing its reputation independently of its namesake, the German collector and former Puma chief executive Jochen Zeitz. Many private museums fail to achieve much beyond reflecting the individual tastes of their founders. Zeitz MOCAA aims to do much more than that. If it succeeds it will radically alter the landscape of contemporary art in Africa and put African artists firmly on the international map.


“For a very long time, the narrative of Africa has been defined by people from elsewhere,” says Mark Coetzee, Zeitz MOCAA’s executive director and chief curator. “This is our attempt at reclaiming that narrative.” The museum focuses on work by artists from Africa and its diaspora, with programming strands devoted to the moving image, costume, performance art and digital platforms.


The museum is a collaboration between Jochen Zeitz and the V&A Waterfront, the commercial company which has developed more than 300 acres of waterside property in Cape Town. Its nine-storey 102,000 sq. ft building, a disused granary, was converted by the UK architect Thomas Heatherwick. The V&A Waterfront owns the building and has paid for its ZAR500m ($38.7m) transformation, giving it to Zeitz MOCAA on a 99-year renewable lease.

For his first museum project, Heatherwick has carved a spectacular atrium in the shape of a kernel of corn out of the vertical silos once used to store grain. He has exposed the original, weathered concrete and incorporated the building’s industrial quirks into his design. Around 80 traditional white cube galleries are positioned around the central atrium. Read more