‘A re-imagining of a museum’: the essential insider guide to Cape Town’s newly opened Zeitz MOCAA

‘A re-imagining of a museum’: the essential insider guide to Cape Town’s newly opened Zeitz MOCAA

Opening today, Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA is set to become Africa’s most important cultural attraction. Established through a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will showcase diverse modern art from throughout the continent; it is the first major museum of its kind in all of Africa. (Guests who want to get as close to the new landmark as possible can stay at Cape Town’s Silo Hotel, which opened earlier this year and stands atop some of the complex.)

Here the museum’s director Mark Coetzee details what visitors can expect to encounter now that the doors to one of the world’s most anticipated museums have finally opened.

Athi-Patra Ruga, The Night of the Long Knives III, 2013 CREDIT: ZEITZ MOCAA

How should first-time visitors structure their visit?
I would suggest buying a ticket online to skip the queues at the entrance, and to arrive at around 11:30am so you could have an hour and a half in the galleries before taking a leisurely lunch in the museum restaurant. It’s up on the roof and offers Cape Town’s best views of Table Mountain — be sure to book a window seat to best enjoy Heatherwick Studio’s faceted glass façade.

I would then return to the galleries for another hour or two. Pace yourself: there are nine floors, seven filled with art. Besides the changing exhibitions, there are six institutes within the museum focusing on performance, costume, curatorial studies and so on. Check the daily schedule online for time-based activities or events. Watching a performance piece in the towering atrium is mesmerising.

A cross-section of Zeitz MOCAA

What should visitors ensure they see?
In our permanent collection, Isaac Julien’s nine-screen projection Ten Thousand Waves is an astonishing experience. Don’t miss Chris Ofili’s blue painting or Nicolas Hlobo’s sculpture Dragon. El Loko’s installation of nine massive etched glass discs on the floor of our elevated sculpture garden are vertigo-inducing; you almost believe they could shatter from your weight and drop you 33 metres into the museum atrium below.

For visitors with limited time, which rooms or exhibits should be prioritised?
The permanent-collection galleries on levels 2 and 3 give an insight into 21st-century artistic practice across the African continent. If you are interested in film in Africa, the Centre for the Moving Image presents works in five screenings rooms.

A rendering of the museum’s interior CREDIT: HEATHERWICK STUDIO

Which works best give insight into South Africa?
The Centre for Photography presents changing exhibitions not only about how artists give us the tools to negotiate our position in this time and place, but also about a medium that has been pivotal in the liberation movements across the continent of Africa.

Which work has the most interesting history?
The underground tunnels that used to transport the grain in the old silo are architectural marvels in themselves. This is where photographer Edson Chagas has now recreated the Angola Pavilion installation that won him the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. While navigating the tunnels and discovering this artist’s intervention, one is moved by the power of site-specific or site-sensitive work.

Cyrus Kabiru, Macho Nne 10 (Africana Eyelashes), 2014 CREDIT: ZEITZ MOCAA

What forthcoming temporary exhibitions are you most excited about?
We’re launching the museum with early career retrospectives dedicated to Kudzanai Chiurai from Zimbabwe and Nandipha Mntambo from Swaziland. I am excited to be able to have the opportunity of seeing in-depth, major exhibitions for young artists from our time.

What is the institution’s greatest strength?
The unknown. We are breaking new ground.

What is its greatest weakness?
The unknown. We are breaking new ground.

The new landmark CREDIT: IWAN BAAN

What’s unique about the institution?
Zeitz MOCAA constitutes a re-imagining of a museum within an African context: celebrating Africa preserving its own cultural legacy, writing its own history and defining itself on its own terms. Our commitment to showing cutting-edge contemporary art practice from across the continent of Africa and its diaspora is a huge responsibility. Our emphasis on access for all, representation of all, and a platform for people from Africa to participate in writing their own cultural heritage is an important mission.

What is interesting about the building the institution occupies?
The building was a functioning grain silo until it was transformed into a contemporary art museum. It is an iconic protected structure that has now been transformed into a beacon for culture.

A huge central section of the massive, 33-metre-tall, 5.5-metre-wide concrete cylinders that make up the heart of the old silo has been carved out to create a spectacular oval atrium — an ‘industrial cathedral’ symbolically shaped like a gigantic piece of grain and lit from above via a glass roof.

Where else do you recommend visitors visit in Cape Town?
The Iziko South African National Gallery is a wonderful place to discover more historical artworks, which provide a context for the contemporary activities that Zeitz MOCAA exhibits.