When you think of planning a holiday to South Africa, thoughts of Game tours and spotting the Big 5 are typically the first things that spring to mind. However, what you may be surprised to learn, is that South Africa is quickly earning a reputation as the Contemporary Art capital of Africa.
While early 20th century pieces coming out of South Africa were largely influenced by European landscape paintings and Impressionism, it was the beginning of the Apartheid era (1948-94) that saw South Africa’s contemporary art scene flourish, making for an interesting modern history. Art being created in South Africa during the Apartheid era saw a large number of artists declaring opposition to Government policy, while others pursued a more experimental approach.
Today, South Africa is home to a vibrant art scene, as well as some of the best art galleries in the world. If you’re in pursuit of thought-provoking, powerful pieces from contemporary African artists, these are the best places to visit in South Africa.
Most of South Africa’s major galleries that showcase fine art are located in Johannesburg, so it goes without saying, when pursuing South African art, Johannesburg is a great place to start! Here are some of our favourite South African art galleries.
Featuring artists from South Africa and the greater African continent, the Goodman Gallery (which was established in Johannesburg in 1966) is at the forefront of contemporary art in South Africa. The artists whose work is featured have shaped contemporary art in South Africa, while a host of international artists’ works are also displayed, that explore the political themes within the African context.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Located in the CBD of Johannesburg is the Johannesburg Art Gallery (or JAG for short). With more than 9000 artworks across 15 exhibition halls in its collection, the JAG is one of the biggest galleries on the South African subcontinent.
Based in a beautiful colonial-era house that dates back to 1912, Gallery MOMO (which launched in 2003) is a contemporary art gallery that features the works of local and international up-and-coming artists who are interested in creating art for its own sake, rather than its social context. The works on display include items across all art forms including drawings, paint, video installations and photography to name a few.
Everard Read Gallery
Founded in 1913, the Everard Read Gallery is South Africa’s premiere commercial gallery. Representing approximately 80 artists, the gallery showcases the works of leading South African artists who work with a variety of mediums including sculpture and paint.
Perhaps putting Cape Town on the tourist map (even more) is the growing creative scene. Recent years have seen a usurp in creativity in almost every aspect in this South African coastal city; from restaurant menus to city walls and galleries, no stone has been left unturned as an opportunity for creative endeavours!
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art
Having opened in late 2017 following much anticipation both locally and globally, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art is the first major museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary African art displays, and is currently the largest museum in all of Africa and also houses the largest collection of African art in the world.
It doesn’t end there either; the architecture of the museum itself is also an artwork in its own right. Designed by architect Thomas Heatherwick, the former grain silo is now a nine-storey building with unique diamond-shaped windows that flood the museum interiors with natural light. Inside, the tube-shaped silos have been completely hollowed out, making for an entirely stunning art experience.
Recently recognised as one of the ‘Top 50 Emerging Galleries From Around the World’ by Contemporary Magazine, the WhatiftheWorld gallery has fast become a place for curators and collectors alike to experience innovation. Housed in a decommissioned synagogue in Woodstock, the gallery acts as a platform for South African artists and is also a publisher of monographs and catalogues that detail the works of their artists.
The Iziko South African National Gallery
Housing a variety of Dutch, French, Flemish and British works that date to the 17th-19th century, with the beautiful Table Mountain as a backdrop, The Iziko South African National Gallery is one of those places to visit in South Africa that can’t be missed. The permanent collection rotates regularly, and there is an interesting collection of indigenous sculptures, as well as poignant beadwork that celebrates the unique and creative cultures of the African continent.
You can discover all that Cape Town has to offer when you travel to South Africa on the Cape Town Explorer tour with Trafalgar!
A hive of local arts and crafts that are as diverse as the region’s landscapes, the coastal town of Durban is alive with contemporary art.
While it may not be big on the international scale, KZNSA is well worth a visit. A membership gallery that’s been running for over a century, the gallery features rotating exhibitions of local artwork, as well as a big annual exhibition. It’s a great South African gallery that offers a unique take on local talent and features many up-and-coming artists who have emerged through the gallery’s community outreach programs.
Located just 45-minutes outside of Cape Town, Stellenbosch is home to South Africa’s unexpected art scene. Having drawn creative spirits for years, the small city packs a punch when it comes to eclectic architecture, bohemian vibes and a lively food and drinks scene.
Established in 2006, the Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary (SMAC) Art Gallery has earned acclaim for successfully hosting a series of thought-provoking exhibitions that have been accompanied by well-researched publications. The gallery primarily showcases art with a focus on the significance of the historical and contemporary art movements in South Africa, including the modernist abstract era, protest era and the neglected contribution of African artists in the post-war period. Since 2011, the SMAC has also opened branches in Cape Town and Johannesburg as well.
Whether you prefer traditional forms of art or the works of contemporary artists, the cosmopolitan city of Pretoria has art galleries that will cater to all tastes.
Unisa Art Gallery
Established in 1986, and part of the University of South Africa Pretoria, the Unisa Art Gallery represents a major collection of contemporary art by South African artists. What started as a collection for teaching purposes of the Fine Art Department in the 1960s, has turned into a key showcase opportunity for students to make connections with prospective buyers. The exhibition space (which was built in 1988) houses a permanent collection of 1500 works, including ceramics, paintings, drawings and carvings.
Have you travelled to South Africa and explored its growing contemporary art scene? Or, are you hoping to visit South Africa soon? Let us know in the comments! Or, visit our website to learn more about how you can travel to South Africa with Trafalgar.