Mark Coetzee has resigned from his position as the chief curator and executive director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. His position will be filled by Azu Nwagbogu, who was previously an adjunct curator at the museum.
In a statement, the museum’s trustees explained that Coetzee’s suspension follows “an inquiry into Mr. Coetzee’s professional conduct [that] has been initiated by the Trustees.” Though MOCAA’s statement did not elaborate why it had investigated Coetzee’s conduct, the South African publication ArtThrob reported that the former director had “failed to respond to questions about the institutional practices at Zeitz MOCAA.”
Some in the South African art scene had questioned the museum’s practices in the years leading up to its opening in September of last year. In 2015, in an open letter to Coetzee and Jochen Zeitz, an ARTnews “Top 200” collector whose holdings form the basis of the museum’s holdings and exhibitions, former ArtThrob editor Matthew Blackman criticized MOCAA for various organizational and curatorial issues, including an alliance between Scheryn Art Collection, a fund that works with collectors to purchase works, and the museum and Coetzee.
“The close relationship of some of the people managing this 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,’ ” Blackman wrote.
It was not clear, based on the museum’s statement, whether the past letter related to the concerns addressed by MOCAA’s inquiry. In an email sent to ARTnews after the announcement of Coetzee’s departure, Brett Scott, Scheryn’s collection manager, said there has been no alliance between the fund and Zeitz MOCAA beyond an early donation to the institution in 2015. And further reporting in the days that followed suggested the matter related to what one article—by Blackman, the same writer of the open letter in 2015—called Coetzee’s “inappropriate and allegedly abusive behaviour” toward curators on staff.
Zeitz MOCAA opened in September 2017, in a 102,000-square-foot space designed by the London-based firm Heatherwick Studio. The museum was intended as an institution devoted to “bringing African art to the forefront of the contemporary art world,” Zeitz, the former CEO of Puma sportswear, told ARTnews last year. The institution received generally positive notices from critics upon its opening.
Coetzee was named chief curator and executive director of MOCAA in 2013. Prior to that, he had been program 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.
Update, May 18, 9:55 a.m.: This article has been updated to include comment from the Scheryn Art Collection.
Update, May 22, 12:35 p.m.: This article has been updated to mention of further reporting about Coetzee’s behavior toward staff.