World’s Largest Contemporary Art Museum Opens

Contemporary African art has a new home at the southernmost tip of the continent. The Zeitz Museum of Modern Contemporary African Art, also known as the Zeitz MOCAA, opened it’s doors in Cape Town, South Africa on September 15.

Before the official opening, journalists had a sneak preview of the museum’s first exhibition which is housed at the V&A Waterfront’s historic grain silo complex, re-purposed through a design by Heatherwick Studio to house the museum.

The V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s most popular tourist attraction, home to a myriad of shopping, dining, entertainment venues and museums and the Zeitz MOCAA is a world class addition for the more than 24 million tourists who visit annually.

The Zeitz MOCAA is the world’s largest museum solely dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The museum has 9,500 sq metres of custom designed space, spread over nine floors, carved out of the monumental silo complex.

The galleries and the cathedral-like atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular concrete structure of 42 tubes that pack the building.

The development includes 6,000 sq metres of exhibition space in 100 galleries, a rooftop sculpture garden, state of the art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant and bar, and various reading rooms.

The establishment

The museum will also house a Costume Institute, and Centres for Photography, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education.

The establishment of the museum came about as a confluence of factors.

The V&A Waterfront recognised the significance of its Grain Silo complex as an historic landmark and for years debated possible uses. An art museum was eventually decided upon but a collection was needed.

The desire was to house something of public civic significance, and something open to the public. It was through Ravi Naidoo, the founder and managing director of Durban-based Design Indaba and its founding company, Interactive Africa that Thomas Heatherwick, founder of London-based design practice Heatherwick Studio was introduced to the Grain Silo complex in 2006, and again in 2011.

Meanwhile, since meeting in 2008, German entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz, a noted collector of contemporary African art was working with curator Mark Coetzee to build a world class collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora with the vision to create the first major museum dedicated to it.

Right location

On their search for the right location in Africa, they came to the V&A Waterfront, and were introduced to Mr Naidoo and Heatherwick, which resulted in the creation of the Zeitz MOCAA at the Grain Silo complex.

The museum is a not-for-profit partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Mr Zeitz. The V&A Waterfront funded the redevelopment costs, and is gifting the use of the building at no cost to the institution.

Both the V&A and Mr Zeitz equally shared the operating costs of funding Zeitz MOCAA during the development phase of the museum from the start of the project.

The Zeitz MOCAA will house part of the Zeitz Collection, founded in 2002 by Mr Zeitz.

The collection is one of the most representative contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Its mandate is to collect and preserve contemporary cultural artefacts of Africa.

The Zeitz Collection is held and exhibited in spaces in Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, and through an extensive presentation of art at the Segera Retreat in Kenya.

Among the first African artists to have exhibitions at the Zeitz MOCAA are two Kenyans; the now Nairobi-based Wangechi Mutu, considered by many to be one of the most famous and successful contemporary African artists of recent years and who still maintains a studio in New York, and the Nairobi-based Cyrus Kabiru, who has been described as “one of the leading names associated with Afrofuturism in Africa.”

Mr Zeitz is no stranger to East Africa, and in fact, owns the 50,000 acre eco-luxe lodge, Segera Retreat in Laikipia, central Kenya.

He is also the founder of the Zeitz Foundation for Intercultural Ecosphere Safety to support sustainable solutions that balance conservation, community, culture and commerce.

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