By Toyin Akinosho
Azu Nwagbogu has taken over as chief curator and executive director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa.
He is in acting capacity in the position that Mark Coetzee occupied until his suspension last Wednesday, (May 16, 2018).
Nwagbogu, who is Nigerian born and bred, was previously an adjunct curator at the museum. He was the Curator at Large of Photography at the Museum’s Roger Ballen Foundation Centre for Photography”.
“An inquiry into Mr Coetzee’s professional conduct has been initiated by the trustees. Mr Coetzee has since tendered his resignation”, a statement from the Museum said.
Zeitz MOCCA, located in the tourist hive of the V&A Waterfront, is the highest profile, nongovernment space housing and displaying contemporary Art from the continent. Its claim as “the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world”, hasn’t received much contrarian commentary.
The museum’s lack of elaboration of what the charges of professional misconduct by Mr. Coetzee are, has fuelled speculations in the art world, especially in the Cape Town centred, South African Art Scene.
The closest to any serious allegations about Coetzee’s professional misconduct, out in the public, is the critic Matthew Blackman’s “open letter” to Jochen Zeitz (the museum’s promoter whose collections form the core of Zeitz MOCCA) and Mark Coetzee.
The summary of that letter is as follows
- One-man selection system: there is still only one person who is selecting the work for the ZMOCAA and that selections are being made without broader consultation.
- Conflict of Interest :The close relationship of some of the people managing this fund (the Scheryn Art Fund), with the ZMOCAA itself and Mr Coetzee is setting up clear and disturbing opportunities for what in other industries might be seen as ‘front running’ or a form of ‘insider trading.’
- Transformation and development: “As things stand, I can see no programme in place as to how the voices of the disadvantaged are going to be aired and potentially developed…”
- ZMOCAA’s buying habits: The buying habits of the ZMOCAA is seemingly forming and instilling a hierarchy. As it stands ZMOCAA buy ‘Contemporary Art Africa’ from largely speaking White-run galleries who are these days merely cherry picking a certain demographic.
- The collection itself as I encounter it: What (the pattern of selection for African fashion exhibition) is beginning to do, in my opinion, is exclude and diminish the vibrant plurality that is Africa. Africa has no one identity and its identity is not exclusively based on adornment.
- The problems of ‘looking like the West’: Like the recent Zeitz Ball, which was openly based on New York’s ‘Met Ball’, it seems the ZMOCAA wishes to replicate the Metropolitan Museum’s practices and ways of operating
- Rewriting history: What also seems to me to be deeply concerning is the fact some of the Zeitz collection, or at least works by artists in the Zeitz collection, are being donated to the Iziko South African National Gallery – according to the labels in ISANG they are donated by ‘Mark Coetzee.’ This, although seemingly an act of philanthropy, is not best practice. At its root it will rewrite history and distort the voice of ISANG and promote the art historical interpretation of ZMOCAA. It is in essence creating a false history.
Mr. Blackman’s letter was published in Artthrob on March 9, 2015, two and half years before Zeitz MOCCA was opened to the public. Reading it now, it’s clear that he was writing as someone who had access to the foundation floor of the Zeitz Museum idea, but comments by art journals, newspapers, even in the prestigious ARTnews, published since Mr. Coetzee was ousted, don’t come across as if they have accessed any new accusation since then, even though most of them acknowledge that Coetzee has responded to one or two of the concerns. The Scheryn Art Fund has declared that it hadn’t had any alliance with MOCCA since it made its donation the Museum in 2015. Coetzee himself had since responded to the allegation of one man collection, by explaining that he had only one vote out of the museum’s line-up of 14 curators, noting that board members have no voting rights on acquisitions and are not allowed any influence on that process. His statement: “No one has a veto right and a majority has to be attained for an acquisition to take place…..Any work acquired has to fulfil the mission of the museum and follow the code of ethics defined by the Association of Art Museum Directors and International Council of Museums.”
Before becoming MOCAA’s chief curator and executive director of in 2013, Coetzee was programme director of PumaVision and chief curator of Puma.Creative, an initiative that allows artists and organizations to collaborate. He had also been director of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and an adjunct curator of Palm Springs Art Museum.
Nwagbogu, 43, is the Director of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non-profit organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria that he founded in 2007. Nwagbobu is also the Director of LagosPhoto, an annual international photography festival that he founded in 2010. He also directs the Art Base Africa, an online journal focusing on contemporary art from Africa and
its Diaspora. He is a collector and advises other private collectors. Nwagbogu has curated numerous exhibitions internationally, including ‘Dey Your Lane!’ Lagos, Variations at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts (Brussels, Belgium) in 2016, co-curated with Ruth
Simbao ‘Tomorrows/Today’ at the Cape Town Art Fair (Cape Town, South Africa) in 2016, and ‘Tear My Bra’ at Rencontres d’Arles (Arles, France), also in 2016. Nwagbogu has contributed texts to several publications, including the catalogue Martin
Roemers: Metropolis, Berlin, Germany, Hatje Cantz, 2015 and Making Africa: A Continent of
Contemporary Design, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 2015.Nwagbogu has served as Juror for POPCAP’15 (Berlin, Germany) in 2015, an international
prize for contemporary African photography and the Dutch Doc Photo Award in 2013
(Amsterdam, the Netherlands). He was nominated for the Discovery Award at Rencontres
d’Arles (Arles, France) in 2014.