After setback, African art museum promises to be more open

September 06, 2018 - 7:42 am

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Ahead of its first anniversary, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa says it is committed to transparency after the director's resignation and questions about governance.

The museum, which seeks to elevate international awareness about African artists, will participate in "many public conversations" and publish an annual report in November, said Brooke Minto, one of its leaders. She previously worked at art museums in New York City, New Orleans and Miami.

While the museum has work to do, Minto said in Johannesburg, it is "outpacing expectations" and drew 350,000 visitors in its first year. About 100,000 visited for free in a program to involve local communities, a sensitive issue on a continent where deep poverty can make art seem like a hobby of the elite.

The museum billed itself as a major showcase for art from Africa and its diaspora, an alternative to the big Western art fairs and galleries that offered the best chances of international success. Former archbishop Desmond Tutu attended the festive opening on Sept. 22, 2017.

The museum's dramatic setting in a renovated grain silo on the Cape Town waterfront added to the buzz of a facility that includes the art collection of Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of Puma, the German sports apparel company.

The upbeat start faltered in May when trustees suspended chief curator and executive director Mark Coetzee amid an inquiry into his professional conduct. Additionally, some commentators say the museum should reveal more about its internal practices, including finances.

It should let young curators voice alleged concerns that they had about Coetzee, commit to rigorous research and curatorial standards, and take a "more measured and deliberative approach to buying artists' work," critic Matthew Blackman wrote in June in ArtThrob , a South African publication.

Minto, who joined the Zeitz museum as director of institutional advancement in May, and Azu Nwagbogu, a Nigerian who became acting chief curator after Coetzee's exit, spoke to a crowd at the "Keyes Art Mile," a group of galleries and shops in Johannesburg.

The goal of the museum is to "move beyond entertainment" and to "tell the African story," Nwagbogu said.

This month, the Zeitz museum will launch an exhibition of art by Zimbabweans, whose country recently held the first elections without its former longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, on the ballot.

The 30 artists "don't all have the same opinion on what's happened," Minto said. The museum, she said, will "give them a space to speak their mind."


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