Maik Kobald prefers art that makes a statement.
The home he co-designed and finished building a year ago at the top of Hout Bay’s Mount Rhodes Drive speaks out too, with its distinctive central lobby/gallery space painted tomato red inside and out. In fact, he chuckles, this bold dab of colour is visible from as far across the valley as Constantia Nek.
A German electronics engineer who grew up on a farm near Stuttgart, Maik spent 20 years in corporates driving cellphone product developments and leading marketing teams in the Middle East and Africa. He travelled the world before discovering South Africa in 2006, where the intense sunlight and potent art captured his visual imagination.
The longtime art lover launched and ran his Red Room gallery in Johannesburg with one foot in the corporate world for a few years, then in 2012 decided to sell art full time and move to Cape Town. With its annual Cape Town Art Fair, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) opening at the V&A Waterfront in 2016, ‘this is the African art hub of the future,’ says Maik.
‘Homo Erectus’ and ‘Homo Robustus’, two ceramic works from the ‘Claybodies’ series by Wilma Cruise, stand guard in front of Red Room’s view of the Hout Bay valley.
The perfect site found him: on the top road below Little Lion’s Head, it overlooks Hout Bay’s serene, green valley, with the Twelve Apostles to the left and the ocean to the right. ‘I drove around on a visit in Cape Town, not with the intention of buying a house, and fell for this property on show that Sunday. It was love at first sight; I saw its potential,’ he recalls.
With the help of two architect friends, his structural-engineer neighbour, and builder Marcus Thurlborn of UK to Cape Renovations, Maik gutted the uninspiring two-winged face-brick house and transformed it over two years into a light-infused modern home, which doubles as a gallery for strong South African contemporary art.
Maik may head to the beach or mountain if nobody’s visiting, though clients are invited to visit any time, any day of the week, to talk about art and view his collection. ‘They call and say, “Hey Maik, we’re in the area. Can we come by?”,’ he says.
From the main gallery space at the entrance, which joins the two original wings of the house, he created a kitchen-dining area that serves as an additional art showcase and is linked by steps to a living area. Rectangular openings were carved out between the upper and lower levels to allow the conversation to flow. ‘While I’m preparing something in the kitchen you can sit down here with a glass of wine in the living area and we can talk,’ he says.
The house is a perfectly geometric space; his builder even replaced the customary rounded South African wall edges with sharp edges for the clean look Maik envisaged. All the artworks on display are owned by Maik and are hung on walls generally painted shades of grey: artworks, particularly the strongly coloured, come out best on a grey background, he believes.
Dabs of colour enliven a grey, minimalist kitchen. The paintings ‘Candy’ and ‘Kate’ are by Hannes van Zyl, the cobalt blue kettle is from ABC Carpet & Home (abchome.com), and the plates are from Le Creuset (lecreuset.co.za)
There’s whimsy and quirky humour among his curated pieces, yet many depict South Africa’s dark history and troubled present with strident strokes, intense colour and taboo subject matter. ‘I love art that has a story to tell and is up for multiple interpretations, from artists with an opinion,’ says Maik
Discussion pieces on politics, sex, violence, racism, repression and poverty appear by local luminaries – Diane Victor, Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge, Jane Alexander, Johannes Segogela, Walter Battiss – and upcoming artists investors should be taking note of, including Blessing Ngobeni, Bambo Sibiya, Sizwe Khoza and Nelson Makamo. Sculptures dot the house and garden: two haunting figures by Wilma Cruise that are placed on the deck are visible from Maik’s egg-shaped freestanding bathtub.
Every piece in the house, even the Salvador Dalí beside Maik’s bed, is for sale – that is, except for the painting that gave the business its name, Robert Hodgins’ 2008 ‘A Seated Figure, Red Room’. Besides that, everything else is up for discussion, he laughs. Red Room, redroomart.co.za, bredroomartafrica
Originally published HL September 2015