From Collector to Creator – Louis Norval’s Enriching Influence on Cape Town’s Cultural Canvas

Since Zeitz MOCAA’s 2017 opening, South Africa has welcomed several collector-owned museums. The Norval Foundation in Cape Town is the first in our series on these new art spaces, showcasing world-class pan-African and South African art.

By Petra Mason

“Art should be present in our lives” – Norval Foundation’s Louis Norval.

Art Basel’s Meet the Collectors film series online celebrates today’s most inspiring art patrons and includes a recent interview with Norval Foundation’s Louis Norval who speaks with authenticity, wisdom and genuine affection about his motivation to open the Norval Foundation in 2018 in Steenberg, Cape Town.

An art world outsider, the businessman describes how “for some reason” he purchased two South African artworks on auction in Pretoria back in 1998, a transformative moment in which he gained a new perspective: “Art has given me another perspective, and it’s given me the opportunity to understand that life is not one-dimensional,” he says in the new episode on camera. “Art is part of life. Every day around us. I think it’s important that art becomes part of your fibre.”

Art has been present in Norval’s life ever since his first investment and in 2018 the South African native founded the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. The non-profit occupies a 20 000-square-foot plot that includes a private museum, restaurants, a nature reserve, and a sculpture park. Motivated in part to address a lack of political and economic support for the arts in South Africa, while recognising its transformative power, Norval endeavours to make art more accessible, especially to children. “A number of years ago, we opened the Learning Centre, focused on exposing children to art in a really beautiful environment.” Children can visit, learn and interact with the works on display and even play on the sculptures in the foundation’s extensive sculpture garden.

Offering a natural experience along with the culture, the land the museum is on was rewilded from invader species back to its origin. The present indigenous garden created by Keith Kirsten took over two years to reclaim the grounds from alien invader vegetation, landscaping of the wetland with indigenous plants from the area, and even re-introducing the Leopard Toad to the area. The sculpture park plays home to wildlife like porcupines too.

The realisation of the legacy affirming Norval Foundation with its inspired contemporary and art historical exhibition line-up and the safekeeping art vault that includes artworks by one of his personal favourites, South African artist Alexis Preller.

Visiting for the first time as part of a private site tour just a few months before the foundation opened in 2018, I wrote at the time ‘hard hats and top cats’ as I found myself in the company of art world luminaries including artist and curator Bongi Dhlomo, ex-South African National Gallery museum director Marilyn Martin, international artists’ book collector Jack Ginsberg, museum director Christopher Till, the publisher of Revue Noire and South African, Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz, all in town for this and the Investec Cape Town Art Fair.

While workers welded handrails for us to hold, we scampered around the bones of the building led by Norval head curator Karel Nel and the building’s Cape-based architects, DHK Architects.

Ever since, on trips to Cape Town, I make a visit to the Norval Foundation. It’s my first stop, direct from the airport and offers a serene and civilised entry into the city and immediately gives one a sense of place and purpose. At the museum, one can grab a bite at the beautifully appointed Grub & Vine Norval restaurant or drive to nearby Kalk Bay for salty fresh fish and chips at the harbour.

The quick rise of the Norval Foundation on the African continent’s cultural landscape has seen the space become a cornerstone of South Africa’s cultural scene.

For more information, visit The Norval Foundation website, their Facebook and Instagram pages, or their YouTube channel.

Currently on view at the Norval Foundation:

Lady Skollie: GROOT GAT exhibition

Gallery 9

22 May 2024 – 15 September 2024

Alexis Preller: Mythical Lexicon

Galleries 2-8

Ends 25 November 2024

Cinga Samson: Ukhe Nje Wasondela, Ndakuphosa Kulo Mlambo

Gallery 1

Ends 1 September 2024

In the atrium:

Walter Oltmann: Metamorphosis

Ends 14 August 2024

In the sculpture garden: On-going sculpture exhibitions by leading contemporary artists.


*Images supplied

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