Featured: SMITH Art Gallery In The Making



The historical building at 56 Church Street is busy being carefully renovated and restored to its former glory to become the home of new contemporary art gallery on the block, SMITH. The gallery is co-foundered by Amy Ellenbogen, who will curate the space, and Candace Marshall-Smith, and will specialise in new works by a broad range of established and emerging artists. In keeping with its unassuming name, SMITH aims to make art ever-more accessible to art lovers and collectors. We chatted to Amy and Candace ahead of the early February 2015 opening to find out more about SMITH.



How did the idea for SMITH initially come about?


Candace is a qualified chartered accountant but has always wanted to do something that would combine her financial skills with her love for art. She realized that running a gallery was a great marriage of those skills and approached Amy to come on board as co-founder and most importantly curator. Amy was excited at the opportunity and together they conceptualized SMITH.



Please tell us briefly about the name, identity, and renovations/restorations of the space that have gone into making SMITH…


The name SMITH is undistinguished and ambivalent which gives the gallery a faceless appearance, a clean slate and a starting point. It allows the content to reveal itself. As our designer Gabrielle Guy said: ‘SMITH is a personality-less name, like Jones. A non-name. A default. Something that anything can attach itself to. Something that has no connotations, presumptions or baggage. It can apply to anything, any artist, any concept and any exhibition.’


Also, a ‘smith’ is a maker of things and lends itself to the creative process. Lastly SMITH is comprised of five letters, these five letters are a key to the five elements to art description – artist name, title of work, medium, dimension and year of work.


Regarding the space, initially we were looking for a space to rent, which was proving difficult. We then came across the building at 56 Church Street, which was about to go up for auction, and realized that this would be the perfect space to house the concept we had in mind for SMITH.


The renovation has been a long and considered process and we feel fortunate to have been able to work with Gawie and Gwen Fagan who acted as heritage consultants and Alexander McGee and Reanne Urbain who are the principal architects. The space is 230 years old so restoring it to house SMITH is a way of returning the space to the public in its true glory.




Can you each please tell us a little about your respective background, how you ended up here, and what you each feel you contribute to SMITH…


Amy studied Art History at Stellenbosch, then went on to work in various creative avenues from fashion to decor in magazines. Her history of art background allowed for a solid foundation to be created for her love of art and design and has meant that she is constantly dipping into this knowledge.  She is passionate about curating art and particularly African art.


Candace studied at Stellenbosch and Cape Town University and qualified as a chartered accountant. She worked in the financial services industry in the US, UK and South Africa before realizing that life had a different path in store for her. She moved on to become a photographer and then the co-founder of SMITH.



The first part of your manifesto states: “Disregard convention in favour of something brave, joyous and timeless.” What does this mean in practice?


In practice this means that we want SMITH to be a space that allows for artists and buyers to have a long reaching and memorable experience through art. We want artists to take chances in their work and buyers to take chances in their buying, and by doing so, receive great satisfaction and joy. We want to create a gallery that enriches the South African art landscape.



How does the building and location influence the gallery’s ethos?


Hugely. SMITH sits in the oldest part of Cape Town. We are honoring this old building by exposing heritage artefacts and placing them alongside contemporary art and architecture. Working with Reanne Urbain and Alex McGee has been a very enriching experience in that they have taken every detail into account from a heritage perspective but have allowed Candace and I to create a very contemporary space in which to show work. The building is on its way to being sensational.




What’s more important, exhibition attendance or sales?


Both are very important. At the end of the day this is a business and sales are vital to the existence of the gallery but also to the artists’ well being. Exhibition attendance is often key to sales but as international buyers move in on the African art scene, sales to foreigners living abroad are becoming more common and these buyers wont necessarily attend an exhibition in person.


We are in the business of helping both new and established collectors to grow their collections and by doing this we are able to develop and nurture artists and there is no set formula for doing this.


Another point to mention is that the rise of numerous art fairs both locally and internationally means that the traditional gallery ‘shop’ is no longer the only exhibition space for an art dealer. Fairs are becoming integral to the industry and how it operates.



What market will SMITH be aimed at?


Part of the SMITH ethos is to be approachable. We welcome all buyers and hope to eliminate some of the pretense that is so often found in the industry.



What is your approach to collecting, and what sort of collectors do you hope to attract?


Collecting art should be controlled and purposeful buying. What makes a good collector is the ability to sift through vast amounts of available works and information and identify the ones that portray the most talent and will ultimately yield the best return on capital. One cannot just focus on one piece at a time but instead should realize that the whole collection is greater than the sum of the parts.


Some ways to focus a collection are to collect by medium, by region or by art practice. It is important to stay educated so that you are able to recognize value and educate your eye. In doing this what you like will not only be a function of what you think is appealing to the eye but also what you have identified as valuable and what fills a gap in your collection. It is also important to adjust your taste over time so that your collection reflects the passage of time.


Collecting by region is a wonderful way to deepen your knowledge about where you live and your culture. Personal preference is important in a collection otherwise all collections would be the same and at SMITH we aim to guide collectors in starting or maintaining their collections that also reflect their own tastes and are ultimately unique.



Will you sign on a stable of artists to represent, or work on a project/exhibition basis? Please tell us a little about the artists you have already got onboard…


We will assess our relationship with artists individually but will definitely be looking to sign up some artists in the long term. We are currently working with Mia Chaplin, Dale Lawrence, Elsabe Milandri, Nic Eppel, Marsi van de Heuvel, Dani Bischoff, Grace Cross and Kurt Pio. They will be taking part in selected group and solo shows during the course of next year.


Danielle Bischoff

Danielle Bischoff

Elsabe Milandri

Elsabe Milandri

Mia Chaplin

Mia Chaplin

Dale Lawrence

Dale Lawrence

Kurt Pio

Kurt Pio

Marsi van se Heuvel

Marsi van de Heuvel

Nic Eppel

Nic Eppel

Julia Merrett

Julia Merrett

Grace Corss

Grace Cross


What do you look for in artists that you work with?


This is not an easy question to answer as there are no rules or guidelines when curating such illusory matter and what makes one artist thrive doesn’t always apply to other artists. What is important is that the artist has a deep ingrained love for what they do. An artist needs to be so in love with their practice as the nature of being an artist is truly hard.



What’s in store for the opening exhibition?


We will be opening SMITH with a solo show by Kurt Pio. Kurt is an established artist who is highly skilled in his painting but also has a witty understanding of Cape Town life; we are excited to develop this body of work with him. We don’t want to give away too much but this show will encompass a range of mediums and will allow for the SMITH gallery space to be shown in all its glory and for all it is going to offer in years to come.



Anything else you’d like to add…


The contemporary African art market is in an exciting space and we encourage buying art from home, this will only enable the market to grow and help to develop Africa as a leading player. Buy art.



Keep up to date on the renovations and other news via the SMITH Facebook page. 



Co-founders, Amy and Candace


Between 10 and 5