Cape Town has been given the nickname, South Africa’s “creative capital”. The early 2000s, marked a surge in the art world as new commercial galleries opened such as Stevenson and WHATIFWORLD, to name a few. Since then, the visual art landscape in the city has continued to grow. Most of the city’s art galleries are condensed in clusters, Church Street in the city centre and Sir Lowry Road in the now gentrified Woodstock are good examples. From the institution of the Iziko South African National Gallery to newer spaces like SMITH and SMAC, the Mother City has a gallery for every kind of artwork ranging from contemporary kitsch to classical Baroque.
We’ve summed up a few popular Cape Town Art galleries with her help of our fave illustrator, Jonny Smith.
Blank Projects / 113 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
- Blank Projects is an experimental artist-run space and gallery founded in 2005 by Jonathan Graham.
- Initially, the gallery was situated in Bo-Kaap before moving to Woodstock in 2009.
- Unlike traditional gallery spaces, Blank Projects offers emerging and existing artists a place to develop and exhibit their work to contextualise and disseminate ideas around South Africa’s contemporary art practice.
- They also offer residency programmes for visiting artists to further cultural exchange and dialogue between South Africa and Europe.
WHATIFTHEWORLD, 1 Argyle St, Woodstock
- WHATIFTHEWORLD was founded in 2008 and is situated in a decommissioned synagogue in Woodstock.
- New Yorker Justin Rhodes and his South African partner Cameron Munro wanted to create a gallery for emerging artists. The first generation of artists WHATIFTHEWORLD represented, like Julia Rose Clarke and Athi-Patra Ruga, have since gone on to significantly shape the South African art scene with their distinct work.
- In 2007 WHATIFTHEWORLD was nominated by Contemporary Magazine, a visual arts magazine based in London, as one of the Top 50 Emerging Galleries from around the world.
Greatmore Studios, 47-49 Greatmore Street, Woodstock
- Greatmore Studios is an NPO art hub with a long legacy of developing artists’ professional practice and facilitating social dialogue.
- The institution houses 12 studios with full-time resident artists, an event space, social courtyard, a digital arts facility and owns a house in Observatory to host artists taking part in their three-month residency programmes.
- The history of Greatmore Studios dates back to 1985 when artists Bill Ainslie and David Koloane held the first Thupelo workshop in 1985 in Johannesburg. The Thupelo workshops emerged during the mid-1980s in an attempt to provide a place for black artists to create work in a supportive and constructive environment with the aim of exchanging ideas, experiences, techniques and disciplines. Eventually, it spread to Cape Town with its continued success indicating that artists needed a permanent working space. In 1999, the first residencies took place.
- Greatmore Studios have a host of public outreach programmes such as presentations and film screenings to make art accessible to different audiences.
Salon 91, 91 Kloof Street, Gardens
- Salon 91 is a boutique gallery with an art consultation service specialising in affordable and accessible contemporary South African art, design and illustration.
- It was founded by Monique du Preez in 2008 and named after it’s physical address and the Parison Salon, the first official art exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts which took place in Paris in 1725.
- Salon 91 has a hands-on approach and assists private collectors, new buyers and corporate collectors to source new work, and commissions can be arranged on request.
- Some contemporary artists they represent include; Elize Vossgatter, Swain Hoogervorst, Paul Senyol and Kirsten Beets.
The AVA Gallery, 35 Church Street, Cape Town City Centre
- The Association for Visual Arts in an NPO that aims to advance and promote contemporary South African art and artists.
- It has occupied its current space in Church Street since 1971 and is the oldest non-profit art gallery in the Mother City.
- Contemporary visual art production is promoted through regular exhibitions showcasing work in a variety of mediums by established and emerging artists.
- In addition to running workshops in printmaking and funding proposals, the AVA is dedicated to seasonal internship programmes that provide a training ground for art practitioners who want to pursue a career in art administration, curatorship and art management.
SMITH, 56 Church Street, Cape Town City Centre
- SMITH was established in 2014 by co-founders Amy Ellenbogen and Candace Marshall.
- The gallery’s name is intentionally ambivalent, alludes to being a maker of things and each of the five letters correspond to the five elements in an art description – artist name, title of work, medium, dimension and date.
- Amy and Candace won the bid to buy the space when it was auctioned and worked with heritage consultants Gawie and Gwen Fagan, as well as urban architects Alexander McGee and Reanne Urbain to restore the 230-year-old building to its former glory.
SMAC Gallery, 2 Church Street, Stellenbosch
- The first Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary (SMAC) art gallery first opened in 2006 in Stellenbosch in the historic De Wet building on Church Street. At that time, it was the largest exhibition space in the Western Cape.
- SMAC aims to contribute to the revisionism of South African art history, and simultaneously support the careers of established local artists.
- To date, the gallery runs a successful publishing programme and has produced twenty-five titles including a three-part volume called Abstract South African Art From the Isolation Years.
- In 2011, the gallery opened a second space in Cape Town and in 2016 opened another gallery in Johannesburg. Both spaces aim to further the gallery’s initiatives in promoting artistic dialogue and granting greater access to audiences to view artworks.
Warren Editions, 62 Roeland Street, Gardens
- Warren Editions is a professional printmaking studio that publishes and prints fine art prints.
- Guided by printmaker/owner Zhané Warren, the studio specialises in the intaglio techniques of etching, photogravure and photopolymer, as well as monotype and relief.
- The studio invites printmakers, students and individuals interested in printing to participate in its internship programme. Over a two-month period, interns gain a wide scope of what goes on in a professional printmaking studio; from pre-production to process-based execution and technique to post-production and administration.
- Georgina Gratrix, Gerhard Marx, Brett Murray, Jody Paulsen and Max Wolpe are some of the artists the studio has collaborated with. Prints can be bought directly from the studio and are available for viewing anytime.
South African Print Gallery, 109 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
- The South African Print Gallery represents a fine collection of printmaking by contemporary South African artists and aims to inspire a new generation of artists and collectors.
- Some of the gallery’s best investment prints are by Walter Battiss, Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, Cecil Skotness and Conrad Botes, whose prominent works are part of South Africa’s art history cannon.
- The gallery was established by master printmaker Gabriel Clark-Brown who is also the editor and published of the South African Art Times.
Iziko South African National Gallery / Government Avenue, Cape Town
- The Iziko South African National Gallery was founded in 1871 after Sir Thomas Butterworth, a British maritime artist, donated 45 paintings to the national art collection.
- In 1875, the South African Fine Arts Association bought the gallery’s current premises for R12 000 but the building’s foundation was only laid in 1914.
- Initially, the gallery’s collection was limited to Dutch, French and British works from the 17th and 19th century; only since the 1980s did it begin to establish a wider collection that acknowledges and celebrates work from South Africa and the diaspora.
- Jane Alexander’s The Butcher Boys sculpture is one of the gallery’s best-known modern works.
- Its library is a treasure trove for art enthusiasts and has over 15 000 volumes of books, sale catalogues, pamphlets, exhibition invitations and artist files.
Stevenson / 160 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
- After visiting Documenta 11, a quinquennial contemporary art exhibition in September 2002 in Germany, co-directors Micheal Stevenson and Andrew da Conceicao were inspired to create a similar space in South Africa.
- Stevenson operates in Cape Town and Johannesburg. In 2005 and 2006, it was the first South African gallery to exhibit artists from other African countries.
- The gallery places particular emphasis on art publishing and has a rich archive of publications that can be purchased or viewed online.
- Stevenson represents approximately 30 artists including Penny Siopis, Zanele Muholi, Kemang Wa Lehulere and Wim Botha.
Not in Cape Town? Check of the Joburg fine art scene here.
Illustrations by Jonny Smith.