Art

Zeitz Mocaa's got competition: Norval Foundation, CPT's new art attraction

The opening of the striking Norval Foundation museum in Cape Town has added yet another cultural landmark to the art-rich city, writes Andrea Nagel

29 April 2018 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel
A view of the stark, modern Norval Foundation museum from the sculpture garden.
A view of the stark, modern Norval Foundation museum from the sculpture garden.
Image: Andrea Nagel.

When Serge Alain Nitegeka was 11 years old, an ethnic civil war drove him and his family to flee their home in Burundi for Rwanda. His trauma intensified when Rwanda was also plunged into hostilities and he had to run away again. The experience of being a young refugee still haunts the Johannesburg-based artist and the tangled mess of stained dark wooden planks that fills the atrium of Cape Town's latest large-scale art space is testament to his pain.

The chaotic structure that juts out in all directions with its twisted and interlaced beams resembling makeshift barriers is designed to mimic the harrowing experience of being a refugee.

I had to duck under or step over the planks as I passed through the sculpture, palpably experiencing the fear and anxiety of crossing secretively and cautiously over borders. But the imposter, an exit sign tacked to the installation, insisted on by the fire inspector, is a reminder that I'm in this new, impressive space that is a tribute to the vibrancy of the old and the new South African art scenes.

'Structural Response III', a wood installation by Serge Alain Nitegeka, evokes the experience of having to flee from home.
'Structural Response III', a wood installation by Serge Alain Nitegeka, evokes the experience of having to flee from home.
Image: Supplied.

Nitegeka's sculpture is one of the large-scale works that forms part of the first group of exhibitions at Cape Town's latest art attraction, Norval Foundation.

I first heard about the project from an art journalist friend over a year ago, when all eyes were on the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Mocaa), an imposing architectural feat of an art museum, designed by British celebrity architect Thomas Heatherwick - who designed London's new-look buses and Manhattan's New York Yards with its strange honeycomb structure.

"Why would they build an upscale art museum in Tokai? (it's actually Steenberg)," was the question my journalist friend was asking himself, and I've heard it repeated many times since, along with speculation about why Cape Town would need two major temples to local and African contemporary art.

Gossip abounded. A competition of egos between rival businessmen? A front for some dodgy tax evasion? An excuse to draw people to the 200-seat restaurant on the site? None of these speculations is true. But comparisons between Zeitz Mocaa and Norval are going to be inevitable.

Unlike the all-star cast behind Mocaa, (including German businessman, philanthropist and art collector Jochen Zeitz), the team behind the opening of Norval Foundation is not clamouring for the limelight. In fact, property mogul Louis Norval, the original funder of the project, positively and adamantly avoids it.

Norval is the co-founder of Attfund, one of the largest private-property investment companies in South Africa, managing director of the Parkdev Group of Companies, executive chairman of Homestead Group Holdings, and serves on the board of a number of other major companies, including Hyprop Investments, which bought Attfund in 2011. But when Top Billing wanted to interview him about the museum he politely declined.

Instead the face of the project is executive director Elana Brundyn, who cut her teeth with the huge challenge of art museum openings as part of the Mocaa launch team - their Director of Institutional Advancement and External Affairs.

Founder Louis Norval (left) poses with executive director Elana Brundyn.
Founder Louis Norval (left) poses with executive director Elana Brundyn.
Image: Supplied

"My previous experience at Zeitz Mocaa taught me exactly what it takes to build up an institution of this size, especially with the eyes of the world watching your every move," she said days before the opening. Brundyn also owned her own gallery, called Brundyn, in Cape Town for three-and-a-half years.

Clearly amped about the project, her eyes shiny with excitement as she talks about it, her energy and exuberance is palpable. Asked the million-dollar question, why choose Steenberg for the site (almost directly opposite Pollsmoor Prison) she answers: ''Why not?", adding that it was already owned by the Norvals, that it's a beautiful piece of land with the magnificent Table Mountain National Park backdrop and that she believes it's a great alternative to the City Bowl, with its abundant galleries or the winelands with their particular appeal.

Brundyn is clearly enamoured of her new position, though she was planning to get out of the art world after the great success of the Zeitz Mocaa opening. ''I was only on board for the opening of Zeitz Mocaa," she says.

But it's been really hard work. She's gathered together a great group of curators to put the exhibitions together: Owen Martin from Canada is the chief curator and trustee of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation; Karel Nel, well known as a professor of the School of Arts at Wits University is a senior curator; Khanyisile Mbongwa is the curator of performance, to name a few. Each is tasked with putting together exhibitions that converse with each other as well as creating dialogue about local and international art.

Part of the huge attraction of the museum is the extensive collection of modernist South African works available for exhibitions from the Norval family's Homestead Art Collection, which is an enormously valuable asset to the space. Some of it is displayed in one of the opening exhibitions, I discover, on my tour of the building with Luke de Kock, communications and marketing coordinator for the museum.

"No single institution can propose to show all of South African art," he says when I ask if Norval Foundation is in competition with Zeitz Mocaa or any of the other South African museums and galleries.

"By their very nature, museums are exclusionary, they have particular works by particular artists on their walls at one time and can only add a few voices to the beautiful cacophony of the South African and African art scene.

"By adding institutions with different works to showcase and different curators to choose, a greater picture of both historical and contemporary art is offered to local admirers and international visitors."

CULTURE MEETS NATURE

What really differentiates Norval Foundation from any other museum or gallery that I have visited is the union of culture and nature. This is intentional as Norval is as passionate about ecology as he is about art.

The ambient Skotnes Restaurant & Bar overlooks the museum's sensational sculpture garden.
The ambient Skotnes Restaurant & Bar overlooks the museum's sensational sculpture garden.
Image: Supplied

De Kock says Norval has invested in a lot of solar power companies and companies that focus on producing biofuel. The building itself has 160 solar panels on the roof and a water purification system, so it's partly off the grid.

"Louis saw a gap in the market for a museum that could be both a cultural destination and place to be in tune with nature. It's a great combination when you consider how tiring absorbing a lot of information about culture can be," says De Kock.

The sculpture garden is one of the museums's greatest drawcards. It is located in a serene wetland populated by birds and frogs, including endangered western Leopard Toads, which are protected. They've even built tunnels for the frogs to use. The sculptures showcased by this magnificent garden seem to be totems that belong there, rather than alien constructions that don't fit in. It's the first time I've felt like I really understand the power of sculpture removed from an urban, public presence.

SCULPTURE GARDEN

Featured artists include Wim Botha, Joni Brenner, Victor Ehikhamenor, William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx, Speelman Mahlangu, Michele Mathison, Brett Murray, Nandipha Mntambo and Angus Taylor.

'Again, Again', an artwork by Brett Murray, adorns the foundation's lush grounds.
'Again, Again', an artwork by Brett Murray, adorns the foundation's lush grounds.
Image: Supplied.

It's quite an auspicious feeling to witness the coming together of a place that will both pay tribute to South African and African artists, offering locals and visitors to Cape Town alike a window into some of the greatest art our countrymen have created, while still remaining a sanctuary for nature.

Entrance to the gallery is free all day on Mondays to make the space accessible to all people and there is an extensive education programme. On other days the entrance fee is R150 for adults and children under 18 can visit for free.

NORVEL FOUNDATION'S OPENING EXHIBITIONS

PULLING AT THREADS

Curated by: Owen Martin

Artists: Igshaan Adams, Nick Cave, William Kentridge & Marguerite Stephens, Abdoulaye Konaté, Liza Lou, Ibrahim Mahama, Maria Nepomuceno, Lyndi Sales and Billie Zangewa.

Exhibit at a glance: Examines the role of craft in the practices of contemporary artists that use techniques like weaving, sewing, beading and collage.

RE/DISCOVERY AND MEMORY

Curated by: Karel Nel.

Artists: Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Legae, Serge Alain Nitegeka and Edoardo Villa.

Exhibit at a glance: Major retrospectives of the work of both Kumalo and Legae will be shown alongside an exhibition of their friend and colleague Villa. The Kumalo and Legae retrospectives, the first of its kind globally, draw together a large body of work: a series of bronzes and drawings chronicling their innovative artistic practices. Serge Alain Nitegeka created an immersive installation in the atrium.

SPECTRALITY, SORCERY AND THE SPIRIT

Curated by: Portia Malatjes

Artists: Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Gladys Mgudlandlu, Noria Mabasa, Jackson Hlungwane, Cyprian Shilakoe, Gerard Sekoto, Trevor Makhoba, Dumile Feni, Thomas Kgope, Sithembiso Sibisi, Peter Clarke, Phuthuma Seoka, Sibusiso Duna and Billie Mandini.

Exhibit at a glance: The South African modernist works in the Norval family's Homestead Art Collection attest to a long-standing preoccupation with ideas of the oneiric, the spectral and issues pertaining to different forms of black spiritual economies.

US, THEM & I

Curated by: Khanyisile Mbongwa

Artists: Bojoka, iNdoni dancers, Wezile Mgibe, Soul Connexion General Zion Choir and Lorin Sookool.

Exhibit at a glance: Performances in the Sculpture Garden exploring place-making, identity and the political.


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