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African collectors share the wealth as private museums proliferate

Theo Danjuma proposes a non-profit gallery in one of his father's hotels in Lagos. In South Africa, a $45m contemporary art museum is underway

London. They have proliferated in India and China (there are ten in Shanghai alone), and now private museums that house the collections of the rich are springing up across Africa.

Theo Danjuma, the 28-year-old son of Theophilus Danjuma, an oil tycoon and former Nigerian defence minister who is worth an estimated $700m, is the latest to build a space in Africa to show his collection. The non-profit gallery, funded by the family business, is due to open as an annex to one of his father’s hotels in Lagos in 2016.

London-based Theo Danjuma has amassed a 400-strong collection of international contemporary art in just six years. He combines well-known names such as Tracey Emin, Isa Genzken and Wade Guyton with emerging artists, often from Africa or the diaspora, such as Emeka Ogboh and Neïl Beloufa. Danjuma has helped to fund Beloufa’s current show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (“Counting on People”, until 16 November), and is exhibiting works from his collection in London during Frieze week (see box).

Conservative tastes

The young collector says that he would like to have a permanent space in London, but that showing his collection in Lagos, where tastes are still conservative, prompts a “far more interesting conversation”. “If you tried to tell people that [the Norwegian artist Matias Faldbakken’s] jerry cans are art, they’d just say you were batshit crazy,” he says.

Undaunted by the Nigerian government’s lack of support for the arts, Danjuma plans to launch a space for artists’ residencies in Lagos, modelled on August House in Johannesburg. “In Nigeria, it’s easier if we take culture into our own hands,” he says.

Museum-building projects are often completed more quickly without the involvement of the government. Last November, in Benin, the Zinsou family opened a museum dedicated to contemporary African art—the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa. The 1920s Villa Ajavon in Ouidah took just a year to restore and turn into a museum, at a cost of £100,000.

Marie-Cécile, the daughter of the Franco-Beninese financier Lionel Zinsou, says the museum has been a “journey of discovery” for many locals. “People would come in and say it was empty; it was difficult to recognise the art,” she says. “Now contemporary art is accepted.” Education is a priority for the museum, which works with 364 schools in Benin. Around 80% of the museum’s visitors are under the age of 20.

Zinsou says that there were barely any art institutions in Africa ten years ago; she now counts more than 13 in countries including Senegal, Kenya, South Africa and Morocco. There are two private museums in the pipeline in Marrakech alone, including one dedicated to the work of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Cape Town’s $45m museum

In South Africa, work is under way on several privately funded institutions, including the non-profit Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which is due to open in Cape Town in 2017. There are rumours that a rival museum is being built in Johannesburg by the South African collector Gordon Schachat.

Jochen Zeitz, a former chairman of the sportswear company Puma, says that he is donating his collection to the new museum “in perpetuity”. The German collector started buying Pop Art more than 20 years ago, but began to focus on contemporary art from Africa and the diaspora after visiting Kenya in 1989. Zeitz says he always intended his collection to be open to the public. “I built it with a museum in mind. I always believed that collecting needed a purpose and that came about with my passion for Africa,” he says. Zeitz is also contributing a “pretty substantial” acquisition budget and has agreed to underwrite some of the museum’s running costs.

V&A Waterfront, the company that manages the waterside hub where the museum is being built, is funding the building costs of 500m rand ($45m). The British architect Thomas Heatherwick will transform the grain-silo complex into a state-of-the-art museum. There will be an entry fee for some exhibitions, but David Green, the chief executive of V&A Waterfront, proposes free entry one day a week. “No South African will be unable to enter the museum,” he says.

Unlike many private museums in China, which are often linked with property development, culture is a catalyst for change for collectors like Zeitz. “Private individuals and businesses have the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable way of life,” he says. “Art inspired me and changed my way of thinking; my hope is that [the new museum] will do the same for others.”

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African art in London this week

Open house for Danjuma

Theo Danjuma is exhibiting works from his collection for the first time in a townhouse at 33 Fitzroy Square. “One Man’s Trash (Is Another Man’s Treasure)” (until 28 October) features artists who use everyday objects in their work, such as Sarah Lucas and Matias Faldbakken, alongside contemporary African artists including Nicholas Hlobo and Emeka Ogboh. The show has been co-organised by Joost Bosland, a director of Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town.

1:54 art fair expands

Prices for contemporary African art have been rising steadily (for example, the Nigerian art market grew by 21.8% last year), and 1:54, the art fair dedicated to contemporary African art that launched in London last year, is doubling in size for its second edition (until 19 October). This year, 27 galleries are showing works by more than 100 artists, up from 15 galleries in 2013. The exhibitors hail from cities including Cape Town, Lagos, Nairobi, Seattle, Paris and London.

New gallery in Southwark

The London-based collector Christian Sulger-Buel opened a gallery dedicated to contemporary African art in Southwark on Monday. The first show, “Of(f) Africa” (until 15 November), features Abdulrazaq Awofeso, Ralph Ziman and Vivien Kohler. Sulger-Buel Lovell Gallery is a collaboration between the South African dealer Tamzin Lovell Miller and Sulger-Buel, who has been collecting tribal art from Africa and Papua New Guinea for more than 35 years.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'African collectors share the wealth'