Art museum’s #MeToo scandal

Resigned Mark Coetzee is no longer executive director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Picture: Edrea du Toit
Resigned Mark Coetzee is no longer executive director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Picture: Edrea du Toit

Mark Coetzee, boss of Cape Town’s prestigious Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz Mocaa), arrived for work on Tuesday but his access card had been deactivated.

He was barred from entering the cathedral-like institution that he had almost exclusively presided over as executive director and chief curator.

By Wednesday he had resigned from his position, effective immediately, and a statement was put out: “An inquiry into Mr Coetzee’s professional conduct has been initiated by the trustees.”

City Press has confirmed that Coetzee resigned at a dramatic trustees’ meeting that world-famous Jochen Zeitz (former CEO of Puma and owner of the Zeitz Collection) flew to Cape Town specially to attend.

Since the museum, hyped as the “Tate Modern of Africa”, opened its doors at the V&A Waterfront in September all has not been well, with reports that many of the young assistant curators were unhappy.

Although details of the meeting remain cloudy, sources have confirmed the trustees offered the young curators an apology for the conditions they have been subjected to.

It seems some curators had been gathering evidence over several months to confirm Coetzee’s inappropriate and allegedly abusive behaviour towards them in one-on-one situations.

This evidence was produced at the board meeting.

Two sources close to the situation said that the case against Coetzee was “severe”, but that severity is still largely speculation.

None of the curators was willing to comment and City Press has been told that this is due to a nondisclosure contract they were asked to sign this week.

Numerous high flyers in the art world, who did not wish to be named, said they had witnessed Coetzee making lewd and sexually suggestive comments at work and inappropriate advances and suggestions of a sexual nature towards men in public.

When asked about the severity of the allegations and whether they involve sexual misconduct, the trustees declined to comment.

Several close friends of the museum’s staff have also independently told City Press that Coetzee was known for making lewd comments and generally making them feel awkward about their sexual orientation.

They were, say the sources, also subjected to hurtful and inappropriate comments about their physical appearance.

The trustees, which include the likes of David Green (CEO of the V&A Waterfront), Zeitz, Kate Garwood and Jonathan Bloch, told City Press that, “Given the nature of the inquiry and the process to be followed which is prescribed by SA labour law, we believe that it would be inappropriate for us to provide further details or comment on rumour or speculation.”

They said, “At this stage, there are no indications of a criminal inquiry.”

Coetzee, contacted for comment, did not respond by the time of publication.

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