The simple longitudinal form of the foundation is the outcome of exploratory visits by Norval to more than a 100 art institutions around the globe.
“I looked at everything, all the extremes, from Yoshio Taniguchi’s simple and timeless model, to Frank Gehry on the other end,” Norval says.
Taniguchi is best known for his sober modernist redesign of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1997, while Gehry’s expressionist approach to museums is evident in Bilbao, Paris, and Los Angeles.
“We opted for something closer to the Taniguchi model, if I can call it that. The building is beautiful and timeless, but it is ultimately not about the building and the architect, but rather the art,” Norval says.
The self-effacing quality of the building is, in some senses, an expression of the man who commissioned it. “I dislike flashiness,” says Norval, who netted R1-billion in cash and R1-billion in shares when listed company Hyprop paid R9-billion in 2011 for Attfund, the privately owned property fund he cofounded in 2002. “My whole style is one of not being in the limelight. It is not a strategic thing, just how I prefer it.” For a time the foundation was going to be called the Steenberg Gallery.
Norval’s interest in art doesn’t have a definitive origin story. Two events galvanised his passions as a collector. Sometime in the 1990s, he doesn’t remember exactly when, Norval paid R675,000 for what he considers his “first proper work,” a portrait of a lady with a yellow headscarf by Maggie Laubser. Over the next decade he ramped up his collecting. He bought more Laubsers and also started his “long game” pursuit of Anton van Wouw’s small bronze figures — they number 43 different figures, of which Norval currently owns 30.
In 2007, Norval attended the Kirstenbosch auction of 46 works belonging to Jack and Helene Kahn, a demure Sea Point couple without heirs who had quietly amassed a collection of modernist paintings by the likes of Laubser, Wolf Kibel, and Irma Stern. Stern’s 1936 portrait of a doe-eyed Indian woman holding two proteas sold for R6.6-million. The auction’s proceeds all went to charity.