South Africa has the most established art scene in Africa, so it was a real treat for me to be in Cape Town. The main spots I found were Woodstock (trendy “high” art galleries), central Cape Town around Long Street (somewhat more touristy), and Stellenbosch just outside the city (several museums, plenty of wineries-cum-galleries).
Woodstock is conveniently located along Sir Lowry Road, an extension of Main Road. A cluster of sleek white-walled galleries have sprouted in this somewhat grungy neighborhood, and I love the mix of cultures and peoples. The Love Kitchen serves gourmet sandwiches a block down from cheap fried Da Gama Fisheries.
The Goodman Gallery has been around the longest, started by Linda Goodman (now Givon) in 1966 during Apartheid. They repped William Kentridge, Sue Williamson and Willie Bester (whom I met last week…post coming soon). They supported artists and showed their work when no one else would. Now they’ve brought in the new generation too (Mikhael Subotzsky, Hasan & Husain Essop…).
Their Cape Town branch (second after Joburg) occupies the corner post of the block at Sir Lowry and Nelson. You walk inside a hulk of a building, cross the garage, take the elevator up to the third floor, and voilà, there is your world-class gallery. Last week, they had a Stefanus Rademyer show: tiny bright lights set inside wooden cases, reflected into infinity. The gallery has a great collection of books on South African art, and I whiled away an hour there sitting and reading.
Michael Stevenson represents a ton of the hot artists right now. A relative newbie having started in 2003, they too have another location in Joburg. They were the ones to send over the Pieter Hugo, Sabelo Mlangeni, and Guy Tillim photographs for Possible Cities at Haverford’s own Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery this spring, curated by prof Ruti Talmor.
At their Cape Town branch, you walk up an entryway past a colorful, geometric mural. It might look familiar to the Philly crowd – this was designed by Odili Donald Odita, who did the ramp at Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art. When I went last week, Stevenson had up a whole show of Mlangeni, a series called Ghost Towns. Video works by Berni Searle took up the back space (Searle was just at Figures & Fictions at the V&A in London). Some of the best stuff is in storage, so be sure to ask for a viewing.
Blank Projects, right across the street, is not as big a name but is doing big things. They don’t call themselves a gallery but a “project space.” A South African artist I met in Berlin, Abrie Fourie, told me to check them out. Co-Director Pierre Fouché gave me a mini-tour of the space’s history and of his own artwork. Fouché joined the team in ’07, though they started the space back in ’05 to “encourage artists to play and have fun,” he said.
They’ve since had a host of crazy artists doing just that. Jeremy Purén sold painted watermelons and butternut squash outside the gallery. Adrienne van Eden made bowls constructed out of toothbrush hairs. As for Fouché’s work, he describes himself as a lacemaker/human photocopier. He’ll take a photograph and reproduce it entirely in lace, commenting on nostalgia, memory, and regret.
Central Cape Town is the other main spot for galleries, with a cluster around Long, Loop, and Church streets. Unfortunately, I went on a Tuesday, and this is Wed-Fri town, so a bunch of the galleries were closed. Some that I saw were more touristy or craft-focused, but I caught a couple I really liked.
iArt is fantastic, a sleek glass building that is currently full of photographs by Zwelethu Mthethwa. He has an amazing series, The Brave Ones, of young men on an annual pilgrimage in Kwa-Zulu Natal, wearing “bizarre combinations of Western garb appropriated from various cultures and traditions,” the gallery pamphlet says. I’d loved his work at the V&A show in London, so I was happy to stumble upon the gallery that represents him.
As for Stellenbosch, I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked because it’s spread out, and trains are few and far between. But I did catch a great photography show at the Stellenbosch Musuem on the university’s campus. Lots of familiar faces – Pieter Hugo, Carla Liesching who was at iArt, Zanele Muholi whom I’d met earlier that week (post coming). I got to see some of the work I’d missed from Whatiftheworld, too.
Today, South Africa has a host of artists hitting international galleries and exhibitions (see Possible Cities at Haverford and Figures and Fictions). Cape Town and Johannesburg are buzzing with private and commercial galleries. For every book on contemporary African art from the whole continent, there seems to be one specifically on South Africa (take African Art Now, which has a separate South African Art Now, or Reading the Contemporary, which has a South Africa section). People I spoke to in Cape Town were saying that the government doesn’t understand, care about, or adequately fund art. The position for Minister of Arts keeps on changing, and word is it tends to go to whoever is on their way to being booted out. But individuals seem to be creating the spaces themselves, and they’re doing a fine job of it.
I’ve been trying to figure out why South Africa is such a hot spot for art. Of course, the reasons and history are complex, but two main factors I saw were a) simply the fact that South Africa is the most “developed” country in Africa (a slanted term itself, that assumes other countries should be developing towards a Western system); and b) that artists received a lot of international attention during and after Apartheid, partially because the world’s eyes were on South Africa, and partially because abroad was the only place they could show their work. A whole host of reasons have come together to make South Africa the art world’s darling… I wonder where it’s going next.
P.S. Here’s Holland Cotter’s NYTimes review of a great show of recent African art at Skidmore. Thanks for passing it on, Mom.
Alright, must go. Larry’s giving a talk at the Nubuke Foundation. All my old friends from the art world will be there, plus a few new ones I’m going to talk to about working together on the community art project.
Tags: a word of art, abri de swardt, abrie fourie, adrienne van eden, african art now, art, art world, belinda blignaut, blank projects, cape town, figures & fictions, galleries, gallery, goodman gallery, guy tillim, haverford college, holland cotter, iart, jeremy puren, michael stevenson, new york times, nytimes, photography, pierre fouche, pieter hugo, possible cities, reading the contemporary, ruti talmor, sabelo mlangeni, skdmore, skidmore college, south africa, south african art now, stefanus rademeyer, stellebosch museum, stellenbosch, sue williamson, the brave ones, v&a, whatiftheworld, william kentridge, willie bester, woodstock, Zwelethu Mthethwa