Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Museum of African Design

Source: BMW Magazine SA.

Graham Wood, How MOAD’s Aaron Kohn is reinventing the museum, BMW Magazine SA, September 2015

The Museum of African Design, or MOAD, in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct, is the first museum of its kind devoted to African design. Founding director Aaron Kohn talks about how the very concept of the museum has changed, and how in relaunching MOAD after extensive remodelling earlier this year, he’s had to try and discover not only what African design means, but also what the function of a modern museum is

MOAD reopened earlier this year after some work on its building. Can you tell us what’s new?

Aaron Kohn: We built apartments on the roof, which are now occupied, so there are people living above the museum. By the end of October, we will have built little office spaces as well, so we’ll have designers working at the museum. It’s partly to get more people here on a daily basis, and also thinking about the museum not just as a place to visit and leave, but actually to work from, to use as a resource, and to see as a meeting place for designers from across the continent. In fact, the Tate [the Tate Modern museum in London] has apartments on its new building that’ll be finished in 2018. The top three floors of The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa [in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront] are also private. It’s sort of a model for developing buildings.

Why a museum dedicated to African design?

AK: A lot of museums in Johannesburg are exhibiting local artists, local talent. They’re preserving national culture. That’s their mandate. But there are all of these amazing creatives who are going from Lagos to London, or Nairobi to New York, or Dakar to Paris, and they would never think about South Africa as a place to sell or exhibit their work. Contemporary African art is in huge demand around the world, but it’s easier to find outside of Africa. So that’s my passion – to expose South Africa to what’s going on. I think the next step is to unpack some of the art that probably should be looked at through the lens of design.

What do you mean when you talk about the concept of the museum changing in this day and age?

AK: The greatest museums in the world are having to rethink the strategy between being collecting and preserving institutions, and being audience-driven. So we’re seeing more museums – like MOAD – that do not have a permanent collection.

These museums are simply bringing in travelling exhibitions or creating contemporary exhibitions, and which are much more focused on the visitor services side of things.

MOAD isn’t funded like other museums either?

AK: A lot of how we structure our business model at the museum looks a little bit like a media platform. We don’t go after public funding. We don’t go after private donations – although that’s going to change – but we’ve been mostly sponsored by corporate media departments looking at the museum as a marketing opportunity. I feel that’s allowed us to be a lot more agile.

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