Art Galleries in Cape Town July 24th, 2013
Cape Town’s many galleries and museums aren’t just a great resource for art lovers. Anyone interested the history and culture of South Africa can learn a great deal from Cape Town art collections. And current exhibitions provide an insight into how South Africans are grappling with contemporary issues.
A history of art
The Irma Stern Museum should not be missed. Stern is one of the most celebrated South African artists of the 20th century, famous for her vivid portraits and still-life work. The Irma Stern Museum is situated in the artist’s former home and is maintained by the University of Cape Town. It houses an extensive collection of Stern’s own work, as well as the distinctive collection of artefacts she acquired during extensive travels in Africa.
The South African National Gallery is one of the country’s most important art museums, housing important South African and European works. As would be expected, considering South Africa’s colonial history, the permanent collection features outstanding Dutch, Flemish and British painting. More recently, the curators have made an effort to showcase important local works, displaying work by prominent South African artists. The gallery is situated in an attractive part of town, in the Company Gardens near South Africa’s parliament.
The William Fehr Collection is a significant body of work accumulated by a single wealthy collector. The collection is also a good excuse to visit two important pieces of colonial architecture, the Castle of Good Hope and the very handsome 18th century Rust en Vreugd townhouse.
The University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine art illustrates the intersection between old and new. Michaelis houses a permanent collection of old masters, as well as exhibiting new work. It’s worth checking the Michaelis website to see what’s on.
The gentrification of the southern suburb of Woodstock has seen a mushrooming of galleries in the area. The Michael Stevenson Gallery is one of the slickest and most important. Founded by respected art dealer Michael Stevenson, the gallery exhibits the work of leading contemporary artists, including photographs by Pieter Hugo and the excoriating illustrations of Conrad Botes and Anton Kannemeyer, famous for their work in Bitterkomix.
The Goodman Gallery is one of the best-established names in South African art, and the establishment of their new Cape Town gallery was a driving force in the ‘Woodstock revival’. Representing artists with international profiles, like William Kentridge and Mikhael Subotzky, the Goodman Gallery, on Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock, exhibits the highest quality contemporary work.
Greatmore Studios in Woodstock provides residency programmes that aim to bring artists from different backgrounds together in one working space, and the work is regularly exhibited to the public.
Many galleries remain in the city centre. The João Ferreira Gallery on Hout Street showcases artists from Cape Town and abroad. It is close to Long Street, where there are several bars and restaurants, making it easy to schedule a bit of culture into your day.
The Everard Read is located near the V&A Waterfront, making it easily accessible to tourists. The elegant gallery, designed by celebrated architect Revel Fox, features South African old masters and contemporary work as well as international art.
Heritage, craft and competitions
If you’re looking to confront South Africa’s turbulent past more directly, the District Six Museum has a rich archive of documents reflecting the history of District Six and the destructive effects of Apartheid on social geography. The museum’s small art collection has works by Gerard Sekoto and others.
Spier Contemporary is one of the most exciting events on the art calendar. This large-scale biennale exhibition is a showcase for contemporary art in all media. The exhibition follows a national competition and offers artists substantial prizes.
A remarkable range of African craftwork is displayed at the Pan-African market on Long Street. The number of curious and crafts packed into this multi-storey building is overwhelming, and international tourists will find gifts to delight friends back home.
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