The largest contemporary African art gallery, 9500 m2 across the nine floors of the Grain Silo Complex, this city’s landmark building, alongside the port, is an old granary dating back to the 20s (decommissioned in the 90s) which stored all the grain coming in from the whole region. The Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) is a neo-brutalist mecca for contemporary art, awesomely redesigned by the Thomas Heatherwick architectural firm from London.
The largest museum in the world devoted to contemporary African art was born out of joining the requirements of the V&A Waterfront tourist attraction (find a new purpose for the building) with the entrepreneur and collector Jochen Zeitz. This brilliant German businessman was the ex-CEO of Puma and sought a prestigious location to house his formidable collection of art.
Located in the fastest-growing and trendiest quarter in the city, the top 6 floors of the complex are home to a 5-star hotel with ocean views (The Silo Hotel). By contrast, the museum lies at the heart of the old silo and has been carved out of the granary. The result is an open central area which gives onto the floors with their galleries – a cathedral with its vaults – built by cutting 22 of the 116 old concrete pipes through which tons of grains travelled down to the goods trains in the port.
“The technical challenge was to find a way to create spaces and galleries from that ten-storey alveolar grid, without losing the essence of the original building”, says Thomas Heatherwick. “We have been both bold and respectful at once, given a radical transformation of the building would have meant losing all its history”.
“The Zeitz MOCAA represents a private investment that could be considered a bulwark in and of itself, a colony inflicted on an African nation that is a knot of contradictions, rather than a homage to the whole, the land and its history” (Ginevra Bria, Artribune) And, so as to avoid that very problem, there are specific days and times when entry is free, some sections devoted to emerging talent (with the possibility of bringing their work before the museum management for consideration), as well as a sculpture garden on the roof, a bookshop, restaurant, bar and reading rooms. Among the most captivating innovations in international art and architecture of recent times, the Zeitz MOCAA is a perfect example of the fusion of cultural activity and creative energy present in Cape Town.
Alessandro Di Giacomo
Photo Mark David Alunni