Private Museums of the World: The Creation, Curation and Collections

In this STIR series, curated by Pramiti Madhavji, we take you behind the scenes of privately-owned museums, sharing chats with art collectors, curators and architects.

by Nadezna Siganporia Published on : Dec 08, 2020

Art can move mountains; it has the ability to burrow deep into your soul and change the way you see the world. It is this infallible characteristic that is the reason for many of today’s incredible private art collections around the world. However, most of the private art collectors and museum founders I spoke with conveyed a similar thought – locking their collections away is the antithesis to the purpose of art. They wanted to let the world in and be part of this beautiful journey.

So, they set off to create privately-owned institutions where their collections could reach the world. Daring, unconventional and unrestrained – private museums are in a league of their own. The narratives they portray and conversations they encourage aren’t constrained by budgets or prevailing societal norms. However, turning this idea into a reality takes time, effort, and most importantly, finding people who understand your vision. If the art is the moving story, the physical structures and surrounding landscape is the beautiful leather-bound book it comes in.

In this series of design-led articles, we delve into the architecture and design of these spaces. From some of the most remote locations where journeying into art is part of the cultural pilgrimage experience to locations that are right in the middle of bustling cities, these museums are carefully designed to not only align with their surroundings but be contextual to the creations they house. The series focuses on aspects of both the form and function of the architectural features as well as interesting details about the design from all perspectives.

1. Muzeum Susch, Switzerland

The museum housed in a 12th century former monastery and brewery in Susch, a remote town in the Engadin valley of the Swiss Alps | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
The museum is housed in a 12th century former monastery and brewery in Susch, a remote town in the Engadin valley of the Swiss Alps Image: Claudio Von Planta, Courtesy of Muzeum Susch, Art Stations Foundation CH

The first part of the series explores the journey Polish entrepreneur and art collector Grażyna Kulczyk took with Zurich-based architects, Chasper Schmidlin and Lukas Voellmy, to transform a 12th century former monastery in the Swiss Alps into a remote private museum. “In these surroundings, away from the everyday order and activity, there is a chance to slow down, think differently, and space for new ideas to flourish. It is a counteraction to the experience of viewing art in big centres. From the onset of founding Muzeum Susch, I proposed ‘Slow Art’ - a way of engaging with art that is about the quality of the way we look at art, not the quantity,” explains Kulczyk.

2. Zeitz MOCAA, South Africa

View of Zeitz MOCAA in Silo Square | Private Museums of the World | STIRworld
The view of Zeitz MOCAA in Silo Square Image: Iwan Baan, Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

Located in Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront Silo District, Zeitz MOCAA is the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. In this article we understand the intricacies of transforming a 1920s granary into an exquisite museum. Designed by the internationally acclaimed London-based Heatherwick Studio, the museum has been carved out from the historic structure of the Grain Silo Complex. “The fact that it was going to be the backdrop for contemporary art from Africa played into the design of the venue; that was the defining essence of the project,” explains Stepan Martinovsky, project leader, Heatherwick Studio.

Watch this space for more.

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