Steve and Ann Toon are impressed by Cape Town’s magical new masterpiece.
eometric windows bulge like big bubble-wrap, fat gemstones, or a regiment of goggle-eyed chameleons. They pop with the changing colours of the Cape Town sky – cerulean, silver, grey, bright white, sapphire and indigo. Glinting high above the busy waterfront, this angular Moroccan lantern sits above a stark and solemn row of colossal, concrete cylinders, bullying its neighbours and demanding the attention of the passers-by it dwarfs like a blinking beacon. Cape Town’s latest tourist attraction, the transformation of former grain silos (once the tallest structures in southern Africa) into the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MoCAA) is certainly a game changer. But that’s just the outside…
The real magic lies within. This building’s beating heart is its futuristic, 10-storey concrete atrium breathtakingly sculpted and fed with natural light from above through giant ventricles where the tubes of several silos have been sliced through on an angle. The belly of the building completely belies its brutalist carapace. Inspired by a single kernel of the very corn the original industrial storehouse was designed to preserve, digitally scanned, and then blown up to the monolithic scale required by UK architect Thomas Heatherwick and his team, this unconventional modern art gallery’s organic interior is unlike any other on the planet.
Molten cellular shapes carved in curving concrete give tantalising glimpses of the 100-odd labyrinthine galleries above and beyond this vaulted entrance hall, with peepholes to a vertiginous and dreamlike spiral staircase and two scenic elevators that whizz visitors up and down the dizzying, alien space.
This spell-binding new art-space (there’s even an upmarket hotel perched on top) held its grand opening in September with exhibitions by artists including Nicolas Hlobo, Nandipha Mntambo, Hudzanai Chiurai and Yinka Shonibare alongside work by William Kentridge, Roger Ballen, Chris Ofili and more. Transitioning from the eerie concrete non-gallery spaces between floors, and then emerging into the blinking bright white cubes, waiting to reveal their contents, is both theatrical and revitalising; the ‘non-gallery’ parts of the building acting as a palate cleanser between courses in the feast.
Monumental in more ways than one, MoCAA is the first gallery and museum on the continent to provide a platform solely for the contemporary work of diverse artists from across Africa and the diaspora. In addition to artworks provided by MoCAA’s founder, collector and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz, which will form the base of the collection, a team of 20-plus curators from across Africa, led by MoCAA’s executive director Mark Coetzee, will acquire new work and showcase art, from a range of different media including photography, moving image and costume through a variety of different sized traditional gallery spaces and ‘non-gallery’ areas.
A key aim of the new museum is to make modern African art accessible to its people in a space that will help define it. (Entrance is free to African citizens on Wednesdays and public holidays and is half price on Fridays.) Thomas Heatherwick’s successful conjuring trick, blending old with new and then confounding expectations of what an industrial building turned art gallery looks like, should help provide the best possible beginnings and puts the Zeitz MoCAA right up there with the best modern art galleries in the world.
For more information please visit zeitzmoccaa.museum