In­side the Cape Town mu­seum that’s democratis­ing the world of high art


an ex­clu­sive first look in­side Cape Town’s new­est mega­gallery, the nor­val Foun­da­tion

The place

The just-opened nor­val Foun­da­tion is a fan­tas­tic and dif­fer­en­ti­ated ad­di­tion to the Cape Town cul­tural land­scape, con­firm­ing the city’s po­si­tion as south africa’s pre-em­i­nent arts hub. Lo­cated op­po­site the amer­i­can em­bassy in steen­berg, the space con­sists of three 2 700-square-me­tre floor plates tucked within a quiet mod­ernist box that lets the art do the talk­ing – no dom­i­nat­ing star­chi­tec­ture here. It is sur­rounded by a beau­ti­ful, Keith Kirsten-land­scaped sculp­ture gar­den, in­clud­ing wa­ter fea­tures.

The ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­ri­ors

al­though the ex­te­rior, by dhk ar­chi­tects, is de­lib­er­ately bland, the fun starts out­side the en­trance with a ma­jor edoardo Villa black sculp­ture - The Last

to Ar­rive - greet­ing vis­i­tors. once in­side, pa­trons are lured for­ward by beau­ti­fully tex­tured concrete sur­faces and op-artin­spired striped curv­ing walls into nine sep­a­rate gal­leries. The ar­chi­tects have also max­imised the moun­tain­side views and there is a vast out­door ter­race that will be hugely pop­u­lar come sum­mer.

The art

The foun­da­tion has opened with a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions that il­lus­trate the range of its am­bi­tions as well as its em­pha­sis on sculp­ture. The first room is fo­cused on re­cently fab­ri­cated art, en­ti­tled ‘Pulling at Threads’, and cu­rated by owen Martin, and fea­tures ex­tra­or­di­nary wall pieces by artists such as William Ken­tridge. The atrium has a mon­u­men­tal site-spe­cific labyrinthine con­struc­tion by serge alain nitegeka, a com­ment on the block­ages and hur­dles fac­ing the less priv­i­leged in africa. next comes a se­ries of beau­ti­fully cu­rated rooms fo­cused on the so-called Polly street sculp­tors, cu­rated by Karel nel and called ‘re/dis­cov­ery and Mem­ory’, with mul­ti­ple gal­leries ded­i­cated to the first global ret­ro­spec­tives of syd­ney Ku­malo and ezrom Le­gae. With their grey-green-painted walls, th­ese works re­call post­war mod­ern sculp­tures by

Joan Miró and henry Moore, with a unique african twist. and fi­nally, bathed in sun­light, is the pièce de ré­sis­tance, a grand space ded­i­cated to edoardo Villa, south africa’s great­est post­war sculp­tor, in all his glory for the first time in the cape. The foun­da­tion has his iconic 1959 sculp­ture Africa on loan from exxaro, as well as some fan­tas­tic pieces from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, il­lus­trat­ing

his pro­gres­sion from the ab­stract to the fig­u­ra­tive.

The ethos

Louis nor­val be­lieves in the spir­i­tual qual­ity of art and its abil­ity to im­prove the lives of oth­ers. To that end, the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the foun­da­tion is to pre­serve and make ac­ces­si­ble his­toric col­lec­tions to the pub­lic in a way that the pub­lic sec­tor in south africa used to but no longer seems able to do. Many other pri­vate mu­se­ums are van­ity projects de­signed to dis­play the col­lec­tions of their own­ers to pub­lic ac­claim. That is de­cid­edly not the case here and much of the art is loaned from other col­lec­tions, with not much from Louis him­self. With his busi­ness back­ground, Louis has also brought a fo­cused dis­ci­pline to the mu­seum and ex­pects the foun­da­tion to be largely self­sus­tain­ing, with in­come gen­er­ated from mul­ti­ple busi­ness lines. ul­ti­mately he sees this as a per­ma­nent con­tri­bu­tion to en­hanc­ing the cul­tural life and spirit of the coun­try.

The man

Louis made his for­tune in prop­erty de­vel­op­ment and started col­lect­ing roughly 20 years ago, piece by piece. his eureka mo­ment, how­ever, came when he wit­nessed a care­fully as­sem­bled art col­lec­tion be­ing dis­persed at auc­tion and un­der­stood that a col­lec­tion is more than just the sum of its parts. he has sub­se­quently fo­cused on pre­serv­ing the her­itage of im­por­tant col­lec­tions. among other ac­qui­si­tions have been the 1 500-piece home­stead Col­lec­tion, which in­cludes the Camp­bell col­lec­tion of late 20th-cen­tury south african re­sis­tance art and is cur­rently on dis­play in one of the gal­leries.


The food

There are mul­ti­ple food and bev­er­age options at the foun­da­tion, the flag­ship be­ing the skotnes restau­rant and Bar (dec­o­rated with huge skotnes pan­els, part of a se­ries of 11 that Louis owns). With its be­spoke light fit­tings and mar­ble fin­ishes, it will be a wel­come new ad­di­tion to din­ing in the area and is open from break­fast to din­ner. The chef is Phil de Vil­liers of the award­win­ning Pri­mal eatery and the food is a de­li­cious com­bi­na­tion of south african flavours and foods - think cala­mari with mieliepap, kudu done mul­ti­ple ways and com­ple­mented by ex­tra­or­di­nary veg­etable side dishes, such as grilled cauliflower with agrodolce sauce served on beau­ti­fully se­lected porce­lain and pot­tery. There is also a much more ca­sual deli- and pic­nic-style of­fer­ing for those with less time.

The busi­ness model

The nor­val Foun­da­tion also in­tends to be a hub for the south african art com­mu­nity, of­fer­ing paid-for ser­vices such as state-of-the-art paint­ing and sculp­ture stor­age, doc­u­ment preser­va­tion and gallery rental. There is also a gor­geously cu­rated apart­ment for artists in res­i­dence. all of th­ese, along with the beau­ti­fully mer­chan­dised re­tail of­fer­ing with its be­spoke prints, should help the op­er­a­tion run smoothly.

The other de­tails

do visit the bath­rooms, which chan­nel James Tur­rell’s light and per­cep­tion sculp­tures in a charm­ing way. The mu­seum is also uber-child-friendly, with an or­ganic play area and a me­an­der­ing sculp­ture gar­den with am­phithe­atre for per­for­mances. 8 nor­val­foun­da­

edoardo villa’s africa stands among his other sculp­tures in the nor­val foun­da­tion’s big­gest gallery space BE­LOW right the serge alain nitegeka Struc­tural re­sponse iii in­stal­la­tion

clock­wise from left

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