The Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF), founded in 2013, is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to play a role in globalising contemporary South African art, and to act as a catalyst in the imagining of a new contemporary African art institution in Johannesburg, South Africa.
At the heart of the foundation is a philanthropic initiative to advance the appreciation of modern and contemporary art, while educating diverse audiences through an art-historical lens. JCAF is neither a museum nor a gallery. Rather, it is a new, hybrid institution, developed in the context of an emerging cultural economy in order to make a meaningful contribution to knowledge. It aims to serve as a cultural compass, and to place particular emphasis on South to South, and South to North relations.
JCAF’s research programmes are founded on the principle that experience-based engagement with modern and contemporary art enriches society. Its research methodology aims to provide a critical framework for the understanding, theorisation and interpretation of art through curated exhibitions, the innovative use of technology and the production and dissemination of knowledge in the Global South.
The restoration of the existing buildings retains the original brick structure, and includes new, customised glass and steel features.
JCAF’s 450 m2 exhibition space is a museum-standard environment with UV-filtered glass windows, HVAC air temperature control (18–22°) and humidity control (55% RH), an FM200 gas-detection and fire-suppression system, a digital security system and an art storage-and-delivery area. A bespoke track system accommodates museum spotlights produced by Procédés Hallier.
The result is a museum-standard environment for exhibitions that is the antithesis of the white cube.
JCAF looks to this energy for inspiration, while seeking to serve as a place of intellectual and creative rigour, and contributing to the advancement of the city and society. JCAF is located in a former electrical tram shed and substation that formed part of a network of trams that ran between 1906 and 1961. The first electric trams serviced the inner boundaries of old Johannesburg. The Forest Town tram shed serviced two routes: L1 that ran from City Hall to Rosebank and L2 that operated between City Hall and Zoo Lake in 1932.
Trams as a symbol of the urban suggest the rich heritage of JCAF’s location and its identification with the city. JCAF acknowledges this complex history while embracing an innovative approach to design.
Electric tram in downtown Johannesburg. Image courtesy gahetNA Nationaal Archief
Contemporary Johannesburg is a thoroughly polyglot urban formation whose influence, connections and identifications extend beyond its locality and well beyond South Africa. It is also an engine of art, architecture, music, fashion, theatre, literature and religious life.
Achille Mbembe and Sarah Nuttall