Zeitz MOCAA, Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – Cape Town
Zeitz MOCAA is a museum in Cape Town, South Africa, dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora.
Located on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the museum is housed in a historic grain silo complex converted into an art gallery after a design by British architect Thomas Heatherwick
Opened on 22 September 2017, Zeitz MOCAA is a project developed by a partnership between V&A Waterfront and German businessman and art collector Jochen Zeitz, Mark Coetzee is the museum’s Executive Director and Chief Curator. The core of the museum’s collection is based on the private collection of contemporary African art of Jochen Zeitz’, founded in 2002 and now on a long-term loan to the MOCAA.
The mission of the museum is “To advance, promote, and preserve arts and culture from Africa and its diaspora. To provide access to a core collection of art to the public. To initiate and develop school programs that enrich, inspire and bring art and culture to the youth”.
The project of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) by London-based Heatherwick Studio, led by Thomas Heatherwick, was also a challenge, namely how to convert a 33-meter/108-foot high grain silos complex, dating back to 1921, into a contemporary museum without denaturing its architecture? The solution devised by Heatherwick is far from ordinary; rather than demolishing the old building or empty it, retaining only its outer skin, Heatherwick decided to fully confront the architectural essence of a building made up of several huge concrete tubes. Therefore, the silo complex was excavated, cut, and sliced to create an impressive cavernous space that retains, and even amplifies, its powerful geometry.
Zeitz MOCAA, exterior view from the south, and interior views; photos © Iwan Baan.
Collection and exhibitions
The collection built up by Jochen Zeitz is possibly the most important in the world dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
The Zeitz Collection, previously on display in many different buildings and villas at the Segera Retreat in Kenia, consists of paintings, sculptures, videos, and installations and includes works by artists such as Sue Williamson, Chris Ofili, Marlene Dumas, Kudzanai Chiurai, Penny Siopis, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, Zanele Muholi, Wangechi Mutu, Cyris Kabiru, Jane Alexander, Kehinde Wiley, Godfried Donker, Hank Willis Thomas, among many others.
Works from the collection are displayed on a rotational basis in the museum’s permanent exhibition.
Zeitz MOCAA also accommodates international exhibitions, develops educational programs, and includes an art education center, the Center for the Moving Image, and a project space for emerging artists. Together with spaces for art events and exhibitions, the museum also houses a cafe & cocktail bar, and a book & gift shop.
Cyrus Kabiru. Macho Nne series. Installation view. Photo courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA.
Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama series, Hail the dark Lioness. Photo © Riccardo Bianchini / Inexhibit
Athi-Patra Ruga, The Night of the Long Knives I, 2013. Photo courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA.
Cover image, the Zeitz MOCAA building on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront; photo © Iwan Baan.
Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – Project description
by Heatherwick studio
How do you turn forty-two vertical concrete tubes into a place to experience contemporary culture?
The brief was to reinvent the historic Grain Silo at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, as a not-for-profit cultural institution housing the most significant collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
Zeitz MOCAA Exterior, image © Heatherwick Studio
The Grain Silo in Cape Town, photos: left by Blackwych; right by Damien du Toit
Our first thoughts wrestled with the extraordinary physical facts of the building. There is no large open space within the densely packed tubes and it is not possible to experience these volumes from inside. Rather than strip out the evidence of the building’s industrial heritage, we wanted to find a way to celebrate it. We could either fight a building made of concrete tubes or enjoy its tube-iness.
Zeitz MOCAA cross-section, image © Heatherwick Studio
Unlike many conversions of historic buildings which have grand spaces ready to be repurposed, this building has none. The project became about imagining an interior carved from within an infrastructural object.
The solution we developed was to carve galleries and a central circulation space from the silos’ cellular concrete structure, creating a cathedral-like central atrium filled with light from a glass roof.
The other silo bins will be carved away above ground level to create gallery spaces for the Zeitz MOCAA permanent collection and international traveling exhibitions.
From the outside, the greatest visible change to the Silo’s monumental structure will be the addition of pillowed glazing panels, inserted into the existing geometry of the upper floors, which will bulge outward as if gently inflated. By night, this will transform the building into a glowing lantern or beacon in the harbor.
Zeitz MOCAA Interior, image © Heatherwick Studio
Zeitz MOCAA, exterior view; © Iwan Baan.
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