Is this the new home of contemporary art?
Cape Town is about to become home to one of the most influential art institutions in the world. The 100,000-square-foot Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will be the biggest museum to open on the continent for more than a hundred years. Clocking in at about $38 million, it just might shift the contemporary art world as we know it.
Designed by Heatherwick Studios, the impending museum sits on the V&A waterfront in the historic Grain Silo Complex. Designed as a space for Africa's artists to tell their stories through a variety of media, Zeitz MOCAA looks to stem the flow of creatives forced to look to venues beyond the continent to showcase their work.
"There was a collection looking for a home," says Thomas Heatherwick, "and there was a building looking for content -- meaningful content."
Heatherwick reminisces about his first experiences of Cape Town, some 20 years ago, but says the industrial structures he remembers exploring on the waterfront were never that inspiring to the city's residents.
"It was 90 years old and (the Grain Silo Complex) was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa for apparently half a century," he recalls.
"But it was sort of invisible in some sense to people in Cape Town."
Imbuing the site with a new sense of purpose required the designer to negotiate its difficult structural elements: namely 42 colossal concrete tubes.
Rather than tear down the tubes, he decided to incorporate them into the overall design. Cutting away slivers in their walls, Heatherwick and the project team have created a large atrium space with elevators, spiral staircases and a glass ceiling flooding light into the room.
The museum borrows its name from Jochen Zeitz, the former CEO of Puma. An avid collector of contemporary African art, he is loaning several pieces of his considerable collection for decades to come while they continue to build up their permanent collection. Nothing at the Zeitz MOCAA will predate the year 2000.
South African artist Mohau Modisakeng, sculptor Stefan Blom and photographer Zanele Muholi will be among those with works on display when the museum is inaugurated in autumn 2017. And when the doors do open, there could be a seismic change to the nation's art scene.
"I think Johannesburg has had more momentum in terms of contemporary work," Heatherwick muses about the current state of affairs. However, overhearing an art writer from the capital say she might have to move to Cape Town as a result of the museum made the artist and designer sit up.
"That was one of my most powerful things," he says, "realizing that [Zeitz MOCAA] will create a new center of gravity. It will invite responses."
"Sometimes a project or an initiative can galvanize feelings about a whole place," he suggests. "This project, I hope, can be one of a number of things that give a reason to look with a fresh eye at a city and a country and hopefully a continent -- for those of us who don't spend enough time understanding it."