Everyone is talking about it. Art critics and enthusiasts, visitors to Cape Town, taxi drivers… At the airport I was stopped by a local Capetonian, who recognising my gift bag from their pop up shop, enthused that he’d now visited four times in total since the opening in September. It’s been hailed as “Africa’s Tate Modern”, a “museum for social change” and the continent’s “most important museum opening in a century”. Never more fitting is the saying “your reputation precedes you” given the volume of press coverage on the opening of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCAA).
The museum has sparked its fair share of controversy, from who founded it, to where it’s located, the artists it represents, the comparison to Western art institutions, and the name itself after founder Jochen Zeitz – former CEO of Puma. But isn’t that the point? To create a focus, a subject for debate, something which shifts perceptions and generates interest from the outside world.
We loved it. In fact, we’d visit Cape Town again in a heartbeat just to spend longer exploring the converted 1920s grain silo designed by Thomas Heatherwick and now the largest collection of contemporary African art. The building’s redesign is a masterpiece of epic proportions. Once used to store maize, its existing concrete tubes were converted into spaces to display art. There are five floors of gallery spaces and a cavernous atrium which allows a flood of light through the building.
The art is electrifying. All the more so given where in the world we are. Spaces are filled with some of the great artists of today’s Africa, including Cyrus Kabiru, El Anatsui, Ghada Amer, Jeremiah Quarshie, Kudzanai Chiurai, Mohau Modisakeng, Zanele Muholi, Ndijeka Akunyili Crosby and Nandipha Mntambo, to name a few. Wangechi Mutu’s film is particularly compelling as well as the animated film by William Kentridge set in the exploited industrial and mining landscapes around Johannesburg. For us, it is a monumental celebration of contemporary African art. It stands tall, both physically and in the magnitude of its achievement as one of the greatest museums, not just in Africa but the world.