Zeitz MOCAA – Cape Town’s new landmark and a flagship for African art
Zeitz MOCAA Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, opened in September 2017. We arrived in Cape Town on November 2nd and first of all, of course, a visit to Zeitz MOCAA. The new museum is located at the W&A Waterfront and is a converted grain silo complex. When this silo was built in 1920`s it was the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa. While the Waterfront area was transformed into a vibrant and modern district in the late 1980’s, the silo was deserted and empty at the edge of the Waterfront area.
It was discussed back and forth what could be done with this huge concrete building. The management of V & A Waterfront with its CEO David Green was early on the pitch and has significantly contributed to the realization of this major project. The silo complex consists of 42 tubes in concrete; each tube is 33 meters high and 5.5 meters in diameter, which is completely clogged, without spaces. The architectural solution is simply brilliant and the man behind it all is English designer Thomas Heatherwick and his staff with architects in Heatherwick Studio. Their task was to create maximum space for the display of art while maintaining the character of the building. The task has been solved in an excellent way. We gasped for air and of excitement when we entered the museum’s reception or atrium.
In the middle of the building, oval shapes are cut out in the concrete so that a large atrium is formed, extending over many floors. The shape is inspired and taken from the grain that was left in the bottom of the building. These oval shapes give the concrete and the industrial roughness a soft and organic expression that appears as a piece of art in it self. Around the atrium there are nine floors with a total of 80 individual viewing rooms.
Zeitz MOCAA opened with 14 exhibitions, both solo exhibitions and display of the permanent collection. The permanent collection plays an important role in this great project and has made this art museum possible. Jöchen Zeitz is a German art collector, philanthropist and known for his leadership of the sports company Puma. He has a big heart for Africa and when he wanted a place for his large collection of African art, Cape Town was launched as an alternative. Jöchen Zeitz has worked extensively with the South African gallerist and curator Mark Coetzee who was involved in the plans for a modern art museum in Cape Town. Coetzee is now Chief Curator of Zeitz MOCAA.
Zeitz MOCAA has great ambitions. They want to make modern art available to all Africans and invite everyone under 18 years free admission and all African citizens have free access on Wednesdays. The museum will research, gather, preserve and showcase African art and support education and cross-cultural understanding.
Zeitz MOCAA and the art
We took the elevator to the top and worked us down through the many exhibition rooms and got an experience of African art that we have never before been presented to. It was a great experience and we saw art from young African artists who were genuine in their expression and never a copy of western art. Some artists used elements from classical art, but put it into an ironic and thought-provoking African context. It was a pleasure to experience so much art of this great quality.
It is difficult to talk about only one or two individual artists among so many as everyone made an impression. But still someone made a deeper impression on me than others. First out is South African Nandipha Mntambo, a multi artist who works with many different materials and expressions. She impressed with her sculptures, photographs and three-dimensional works of leather and fur.
Cyrus Kabirufrom Kenya showed a series of photographs with masks made from recycled material. They all had a touch of fashion, but also an associating with traditional masks and African modern crafts based on recycling of various materials.
William Kentridge is South African and works with many expressions, including theater and opera. His video, More Sweetly Play the Dance, is one of the strongest and best I’ve seen in video art. I have a problem finding words to describe the video, but it hit me straight in my heart. You can see a small excerpt on YouTube. It gives an impression even if it does not do justice to the work of art! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pA7uob5PIPw
When we after several hours left the museum, I was flying on a wonderful inspirational cloud. We were both exhausted and full of impressions. Zeitz MOCAA was a great experience, both architecturally and artistically, and the museum can measure up with anything else in the world. Cape Town has really gotten a new tourist attraction!