More than four years in the making, the V&A Waterfront’s R500-million project to reimagine the historic grain silo into the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora has reached completion, culminating in the official public opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) on Friday, 22 September.
Conceptualised by the V&A Waterfront, in consultation with Heatherwick Studio, the museum is housed in a building that had humble beginnings as part of an industrial shipping facility in the Cape Town Harbour. The almost 100-year-old grain silo today has an entirely new purpose: custodian of some of the most important contemporary artwork on the African continent.
A joint not-for-profit partnership between the V&A Waterfront and German business entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz, the museum is an important endeavour in almost every respect.
From preserving the historic architectural and industrial legacy of what was once the tallest building in South Africa, to developing a sustainable not-for-profit public cultural institution that collects, preserves, researches, and exhibits cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora, Zeitz MOCAA is intended to be an important cultural landmark that contributes to a stronger, wider appreciation of the continent’s cultural heritage.
“Our vision was to create an accessible, contemporary art museum and it has finally come to fruition,” said David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront.
“We recognised the importance art plays in society and the need to showcase the talents of Africa in Africa. It is for these reasons we are so proud to be able to unveil a home that will be not only a powerful platform for the artists but allow locals and international visitors access to great works of art, that will become the legacy of society as a whole.”
The grain silo’s architectural redevelopment from disused industrial building into a cutting-edge contemporary art museum was undertaken by London-based Heatherwick Studio in conjunction with local South African architects.
Thomas Heatherwick, Founder of Heatherwick Studio, said: “The idea of turning a giant disused concrete grain silo made from 116 vertical tubes into a new kind of public space was weird and compelling from the beginning. We were excited by the opportunity to unlock this formerly dead structure and transform it into somewhere for people to see and enjoy the most incredible artworks from the continent of Africa. We are all looking forward to witnessing the impact of the museum’s ambitious artistic programme and the museum taking its pivotal place in the middle of Africa’s cultural infrastructure.”
The galleries and the cathedral-like atrium space at the centre of the museum have been literally carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two 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.
Zeitz MOCAA is the first African institution to acknowledge new mediums through the establishment of different centres and institutes within the overall museum: Centres for a Costume Institute, Photography, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education. The museum’s founding art collection, the Zeitz Collection, is on long-term loan, and forms the basis of the extensive art on display at the newly opened museum.
Zeitz MOCAA has sought to create a contemporary art museum that is easily accessible to South Africans and continental visitors. The Museum’s ‘Access for All’ programme will ensure that no one is ever turned away from the Museum due to the inability to afford admission.
The ‘Access for All’ programme will see visitors under the age of 18 allowed free entrance to the museum all year around, free admission every Wednesday morning for all South Africans and other visitors from the African continent, and half price admission for all on ‘Late Night Fridays’. The Museum is removing financial barriers to entry for those who may not have the resources to visit otherwise.
Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum, Mark Coetzee said: “This Museum is a symbol, an icon, of the confidence we feel about being African, the confidence that we feel about our place in the world. And that’s what makes this so extraordinary. We have been given an opportunity to create a museum for all, and we must guarantee Access for All. The right to cultural participation, and access to the artefacts that represent our diverse cultures, is deeply rooted in human rights. This is a principle that Zeitz MOCAA will uphold, defend and keep as a central mission of its reason for being.” For more information, visit the website.
Photography: Iwan Baan
The opening exhibitions:
About the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is a new public not-for-profit cultural institution that focuses on collecting, preserving, researching, and exhibiting cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora.
It is the first major museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary art. Zeitz MOCAA was established in 2013 through a partnership of the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz. The Zeitz Collection acts as the founding collection of the museum.
In 2017, Zeitz MOCAA will open in the transformed heritage listed Grain Silo complex, repurposed through a design by Heatherwick Studio, in the Silo District of the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.
About the V&A Waterfront
The 123-hectare V&A Waterfront blends commercial, residential, retail, cruise, leisure and entertainment within a contemporary working harbour with 22 historical landmarks.
The V&A is flanked by the scenic beauty of sea and Table Mountain, and is adjacent to the vibrant city centre and international convention centre.
Since 2002, the V&A Waterfront has nominally contributed R335.4-billion to GDP, accounting for nearly 2% of the direct value of the entire province. By 2016, the V&A Waterfront had created over 50 000 direct and indirect jobs.
With 25 million annual visitors, the V&A remains a favourite destination for international visitors, as well as a retail, leisure and entertainment hub well-frequented by locals.
In September 2017, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) opens. This is a significant cultural gift from the V&A to Africa, housing the largest collection of contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora.
The V&A is further developing a world-class cruise terminal – in walking distance of Zeitz MOCAA – which it manages on behalf of the National Ports Authority.
The V&A is jointly owned by Growthpoint Properties Limited and the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), represented by the Public Investment Corporation Limited (PIC).
The Zeitz Collection
The Zeitz Collection was founded in 2002 by business entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz and is one of the most representative collections of 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 such as Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, and through an extensive presentation of art at Segera Retreat in Kenya.
The Zeitz Collection collaborates on an ongoing basis with the Zeitz Foundation for Intercultural Ecosphere Safety. As part of the 4Cs philosophy (conservation, community, culture, commerce) the Zeitz Foundation supports creative activities that strengthen intercultural relationships and understanding, and raise awareness of cultural diversity, and inspires others to act in kind.
The Zeitz Collection curator, Mark Coetzee, acts as the cultural specialist for the Zeitz Foundation. Both organisations collaborate on cultural outcomes at the Foundation headquarters based at Segera, Kenya and globally.
About the V&A Waterfront Historical Grain Silo Complex
Zeitz MOCAA, a new not-for-profit institution, will be housed in the historic Grain Silo complex at the V&A Waterfront, with the V&A committing over R500-million to the development required for the establishment of the Museum.
Built in 1921, and at 57m tall, the Grain Silo remains an icon of the Cape Town skyline. This investment will further the development of art in Africa and acknowledges the important cultural and financial contribution the visual arts sector makes.
The Silo building has been a part of the Cape Town’s skyline for almost ninety years, and, until the turn of the millennium, has been at the heart of the operational life of the city’s waterfront dock‐ facilitating the collection, sorting, storing and the exportation of much of the country’s grain.
Completed in 1924 by SA Railways and Harbours, it has processed hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat, maize, soya and sorghum. Its location was driven by its connectivity to the docks and the resultant rail infrastructure. The building is so much a principal part of the city’s urban character that it has been heritage listed by the authorities.
The overarching vision for the building has been to redevelop and restore it in such a way that brings national and international interest in a manner that breathes new and sustainable commercial and cultural life to the building.
About Heatherwick Studio
British designer Thomas Heatherwick founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994 to bring craft, design, architecture and urban planning together in a single workspace.
Today a team of 200 people, including architects, designers and makers, work from a combined studio and workshop in King’s Cross, London.
Rather than identifying with any particular style or aesthetic, Heatherwick Studio is best characterised by its working methodology. The studio explores and tests responses to produce a design that fulfils spirit and letter of the brief in an inventive way.
This process is independent of scale: from developing a chair or a masterplan, the same system of collaborative inquiry and experimentation is applied.
The studio’s completed projects include a number of internationally celebrated buildings, including the award-winning Learning Hub at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.
The studio is currently working on approximately 25 live projects on four continents. Current projects include a landmark for Hudson Yards in Manhattan, major new headquarters for Google in both Silicon Valley and London (in collaboration with BIG), and Coal Drops Yard, a 100,000 sq ft retail quarter in London that makes use of two historic coal drops buildings.