When private collections take on major dimensions, rather than donating works to existing institutions, the collectors who pioneer them tend to go public and open museums. This growth has led to a recent boom in museum-building globally. The private collection of Jochen Zeitz will be at the core of one such new mega-museum, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCAA) opening in Cape Town, South Africa. The Thomas Heatherwick designed building, which will boast 65,000 square feet of exhibition space, is set to open at the end of 2016. Zeitz is also supporting the programming and acquisition funds.
A rendering of Thomas Heatherwick's design for the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art © Thomas Heatherwick
The longtime CEO of Puma began collecting in the early 2000s and with the input of Mark Coetzee, the Zeitz collection expanded its strong focus on contemporary pan-African and Caribbean art. The forthcoming museum will be of this scale for international contemporary art on the African continent. Although it's not the only private museum project, existing or in planning, Zeitz MOCAA is likely to set a precedent for the museal landscape in Africa. Its development may well be followed by other private initiatives of major African collectors, such as Sindika Dokolo (Luanda, Angola) or the Lazaar family (Tunisia) who have sizable foundations of their own with residency programs, educational facilities, publications, and in some cases future museum plans. In the environment of the African continent overall, where the infrastructural requirements for state-funded museum initiatives are frequently beset by bureaucratic problems, and regulations are either not in place or not fully actionable, large private initiatives make sense and may spark improvements for state infrastructures as a consequence. The private collector in Africa also provides a welcome lifeline for young artists. Many of the collections are orientated in part towards the direct patronage of emerging talent while also acting as hubs for introducing established global names to new audiences.
Isaac Julien, Zeitz Collection, Segara Retreat, Kenya
Nandipha Mntambo Cowhide, 2009, Resin, polyester mesh, waxed cord, 24 figures. Courtesy Stevenson gallery
The Zeitz collection comprises of work by globally established artists such as Chris Ofili, Kehinde Wiley, Glenn Ligon, Wangechi Mutu, Julie Mehretu, and Rashid Johnson. It also boasts a significant number of works by South African artists such as Marlene Dumas, as well as young/emerging artists from the region such as Nicholas Hlobo (whose work is represented in the Tate collection) and Nandipha Mntambo. While the museum is being built, parts of the collection are housed in the temporary pavilion of the Zeitz MOCAA in the Waterfront development in Cape Town, while other works are on display at the Segera Retreat in Kenya, a vast eco-resort founded by Jochen Zeitz in 2005.
Cyrus Kabiru, C-Stunners & Black Mamba, 2015, Installation View, Smac Gallery, C-Prints and found object sculptures, new-age glasses made from recycled materials found throughout Nairobi and reconstructed “Black Mamba” bicycles. Image courtesy Cyrus Kabiru and Zeitz MOCAA
Mark Coetzee, a South African who made his mark abroad as the director of the Rubell Family collection in Miami, was appointed Executive Director of Zeitz MOCAA. Coetzee is dauntingly tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the concept and infrastructure of a prototype museum. The news of the museum’s launch was met with some controversy from South African critics, who are carefully questioning the accountability of a privately funded collection and initiative.
However, there are also positive voices—especially from South African government institutions plagued by a lack of a supportive infrastructure, who welcome the ambition, scale and long-term sustainability of the plans. The founding collection’s main focus on young contemporary art has also been at the center of some debate in relation to the ambitious scale and significance of the planned museum. For now, private African collection initiatives largely celebrate the wealth of contemporary talent with works by living artists and tendencies of the recent decade. To some degree, this may be a conscious departure from the established collections of historical African artefacts, contentious in that they can not easily or cleanly be separated from colonialist readings. The works of young emerging artists such as Swazi artist Nandipha Mntambo (born 1982) and Kenyan Cyrus Kabiru (born 1984), are voices of a decolonized African culture and feature strongly in the Zeitz MOCAA collection alongside the work of artists from the global African community and diaspora. It is a powerful reflection of the fact that a new era of African art history has begun, and one that will resonate internationally.
(Image at the top: A rendering of Thomas Heatherwick's design for the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art © Thomas Heatherwick)