Cape Town (AP) – It's a sunny Monday morning. Jochen Zeitz is in South Africa's Cape Town to show his dream project to a patron.
Chatting quietly, the two men walk through the 80 galleries of Africa's first museum of contemporary African art, co-founded by the former head of sporting goods manufacturer Puma.
Zeitz, who donated his private art collection to the museum, is visibly proud. On 22nd September the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Zeitz MOCAA, celebrates its first anniversary. The first year was "a gigantic success," says the 55-year-old.
The museum, located in the middle of the famed V & A Waterfront shopping and entertainment district right on the Atlantic Ocean, has attracted 350,000 visitors since it opened. More than twice as many as originally hoped. Compared to other major museums such as London's Tate or the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which receives millions of visitors every year, the number is low. "But the bar is so high, for an institution that has just turned one year old, so you have to be realistic," says Zeitz.
At the opening, there was also a personal highlight for Zeitz. When the doors first opened in September 2017, not only the museum was born, but also a few days before his son Jesse. Zeitz's partner Kate Garwood had traveled pregnant from Germany to Cape Town – and unexpectedly gave birth to the baby two months early. "We did not want to miss the opening and now we have an African child", Zeitz remembers with a laugh.
In the first year, the museum has made a lot of work. There were 17 solo and group exhibitions with more than 60 artists. Regular guided tours, concerts, lectures, panel discussions, film evenings, performances and workshops for school classes were organized. The goal was to give contemporary African artists a platform on the continent, which ensured that the image of Africa would no longer be dominated exclusively by a Western perspective, so Zeitz.
It was not just the art that attracted visitors. The building, a former grain silo restored by British star architect Thomas Heatherwick, has received numerous awards since its opening. The American "Time" magazine listed it as one of the "100 Best Places in the World". The museum received the design award from cult magazine Wallpaper for "Best New Public Building" and won the ArchDaily "Building of the Year" award in the "Cultural Architecture" category.
But not everything went smoothly. A scandal overshadowed the first year when the board suspended chief curator Mark Coetzee over "professional misconduct". According to local media reports, employees complained about racist comments and sexual allusions from Coetzee. The once highly acclaimed art expert, who already worked for Zeitz at Puma, resigned a little later.
"The change of leadership has been emotional and complex, but we've saved the ship from sinking and regained the trust of the public," said Nigerian-born Azu Nwagbogu, who acts as a temporary chief curator. Zeitz speaks of "a regrettable situation" that has caused many "abdominal pain". As a result, the Supervisory Board has divided Coetzee's former responsibilities in three positions to broaden the responsibility, Zeitz said. In addition to Nwagbogu, American Brooke Minto has been hired as Head of Institutional Promotion and South African Michael Farquhar as Operations Manager.
To celebrate its anniversary, the museum will be opening an exhibition of 29 artists from neighboring Zimbabwe, which has been thematically engaged in the social transformation since the fall of the autocrat Robert Mugabe, who ruled the country for nearly 40 years. "We want to reflect the spirit of the times and give artists the opportunity to take up a significant historical moment," explains Zeitz. All works of art were created especially for the exhibition.
In addition, there will be a series of celebrations, lectures and performances in the Jubilee month, including a "Museum Night", puppet show workshops for children and the beginning of a regular fashion film series.
"We want to build a new art culture in Africa", Nwagbogu describes the vision of the museum. "We want to get to the point where talented African artists have as much success on the continent as in Europe or the US."
Website of Zeitz MOCAA, in English
Zeith MOCAA Anniversary Announcement, in English
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