Silo born again as art repository
The V&A Waterfront’s new Zeitz art museum has opened its doors and welcomes all, writes Sarene Kloren
MORE than four years in the making, the V&A Waterfront’s R500 million project to re-imagine a historic grain silo into the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora has reached completion and opened on Friday.
Conceptualised by the V&A Waterfront, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is housed in a building which had humble beginnings as part of an industrial shipping facility in the Cape Town Harbour. The 100-yearold grain silo today has a new purpose as 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, the Zeitz 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 local and international visitors access to great works of art that will become the legacy of society as a whole.”
The silo’s architectural redevelopment from disused industrial building into art museum was undertaken by London-based Heatherwick
Studio, using 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.
“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 cathedrallike atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silo’s dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes that pack the building.
The development includes 6 000m2 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.
The Zeitz 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.
The museum’s “Access for All” programme will allow free entry all year around for visitors under the age of 18, free admission every Wednesday morning for all South Africans and other visitors from the African continent and halfprice admission for all on “Late Night Fridays”. The Museum is removing financial barriers to entry for those who do 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.”
The cathedral-like interior was carved out of a disused concrete grain silo of 116 vertical concrete tubes.
(1993), by Kendell Geers.
(2017), by Mary Sibande.