African art museum for V&A Waterfront

20 November 2013

South Africa’s first museum of contemporary African art will be built at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, it was announced this week.

The museum, which will be located in the historic Grain Silos at the waterfront, is a partnership between the V&A and German art collecter and entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz.

Positioning itself as a significant international cultural institution, the museum will focus on collecting, preserving, researching and exhibiting contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, the V&A said in a statement on Monday.

It will be named the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) after the Zeitz Collection, which will form the museum’s founding collection.

The V&A has committed more than R500-million to the development, said David Green, chief executive of the V&A.

In return, Zeitz has committed his collection “in perpetuity” and will underwrite the running costs of the museum, Green said. Zeitz will also provide a “substantial acquisition budget” to allow the museum to acquire new artworks to ensure it remains “on the edge of contemporary cultural production”.

Iconic location

The V&A Waterfront is the most visited site in Africa, with more than 24-million visitors a year, making it an ideal site for such a development.

“Over the last two decades, Africa has played an important role in both my professional and private life,” Zeitz is quoted as saying. “My collection has been strategically built over many years specifically with the goal to create an internationally relevant public contemporary art museum in Africa.”

Zeitz said he had considered many cities across Africa, but decided on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town as it is “an iconic location in an iconic city” that would “make my collection accessible to a local, national, continental and international audience”.

The 9 500 square metre museum will be spread over nine floors, of which 6 000 square metres will be dedicated to exhibition space. An entire floor will be dedicated to education to help “develop a new art-loving, museum-going audience”.

The architect for the new museum will be announced in February 2014, and it is expected to open its doors to visitors at the end of 2016.

Until then, selections from the Zeitz Collection will be presented at a temporary exhibition space at the Waterfront, Green said. The inaugural exhibition, which opens on 23 November, will present the work of Swazi artist Nandipha Mntambo.

Cultural legacy

The chief curator of Zeitz MOCAA will be Mark Coetzee, who will relocate to South Africa after working overseas for the past 25 years.

“Zeitz MOCAA will constitute a re-imagining of a museum within an African context: celebrate Africa preserving its own cultural legacy, writing its own history and defining itself on its own terms,” Coetzee said.

The master plan for the silo district includes mixed-use developments of residential, commercial, leisure and hotel property with the transformed Grain Silo as the central focus of a public plaza. The silo was built in 1921 and is 57 metres tall.

V&A Waterfront and SAinfo reporter