Thankful for Zeitz’s vision

Thankful for Zeitz’s vision

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

He is the world’s foremost collector of contemporary African art

South Africa is, of late, home to what must be the most beautiful contemporary art gallery in the world.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (ZMCAA) , in the old grain silo at Cape Town’s Waterfront, is unreservedly wonderful, and wonder-filled.

I went with my mum several days ago, yet it is still haunting my thoughts.

Firstly, there is the cathedralesque grandeur of the design – that something so eye-popping was based upon the discovery of a lone mealie pip in the empty building is a metaphor in itself.

Nip inside and you’ll be awed before you even get to the ticket desk.

Of course, the ticket desk itself may bring you back to earth with a bump, because at R180 a pop this ain’t cheap, but mercifully African citizens can visit free on Wednesday mornings, and under 18s get in free anytime. Which is nice. Sorry for the tourists.

Everywhere is art from artists of Africa, and from the African diaspora, every bit created this century, and my soul soared again.

This is not chin-stroking “hmmm” art, but huge, glorious, disturbing, ground-breaking, brain-rocking art, displayed with space and air and light, with not a woven basket, soapstone hippo, or beaded bangle in sight.

And all at a non-profit, world class facility. Yet this column is not for puff pieces; this is serious journalism, right? I must be circumspect, so here we go: Why, oh, why did it take a foreigner to make it all happen? German bazillionaire, philanthropist and generally fit-looking dude Jöchen Zeitz – long may he sail, and yes, he does have a wife, I checked, for a friend – is the chap for whom the museum has been named, for good reason.

He is the world’s foremost collector of contemporary African art, and he has poured much of his collection and passion (and presumably cash) into the ZMCAA.

Yes, there were corporate South African players too, with money and buildings and vision, and they should be lauded, but Jöchen is the individual behind it all; he is the one whose name is on everything. It took a foreigner to look at Africa, at South Africa, at our widely ignored art sector, and go WOW! Then to make it all happen.

There’s a lesson in this. I’m sure I’ll figure out what it is just as soon as I stop ululating.

Jennie Ridyard

Jennie Ridyard

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