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

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - UNVEILING -

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.

Hang­ing Piece

(1993), by Ken­dell Geers.

In the midst of chaos, there is op­por­tu­nity

(2017), by Mary Sibande.

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