South Africa's 10 Best Contemporary Art Galleries

Goodman Gallery exhibition Faces of War by artist Gabrielle Goliath
Goodman Gallery exhibition Faces of War by artist Gabrielle Goliath | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Matthew Keyte

South Africa has long had a flourishing contemporary art scene. Beginning in the Apartheid era, with creative artists declaring opposition to Government policy, the newer generation of artists often share the social concerns of their forerunners, whilst others pursue a more experimental approach. We discover ten of the best places to find contemporary art in South Africa.

1. Circa on Jellicoe

Art Gallery, Building

The Circa on Jellicoe Gallery lies in close proximity to Everard Read in Johannesburg in a landmark building on Jellicoe Avenue, purposely designed for the showcasing of contemporary art from South African artists. The Circa Gallery exhibits art installations, new technology demonstrations, lectures on artworks and music events. Recent exhibitions held at Circa on Jellicoe have featured the works of Lyndi Sales, the photography of Hentie van der Merwe, the Alice in Wonderland-inspired sculptures of Wilma Cruise and the prints of Deborah Bell, one of the pioneering figures of resistance art during the Apartheid era and a key figure in modern art in South Africa.

2. Everard Read Johannesburg

Art Gallery

Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa
© Eva-Lotta Jansson / Alamy Stock Photo
Everard Read in Johannesburg is perhaps the premier art venue in South Africa for contemporary work. The gallery was founded in 1913, when Johannesburg was still a small mining town, making Everard Read the oldest commercial gallery in South Africa. Today, the gallery showcases the work of leading South African artists working across various media, including sculpture and paint. The building that houses the gallery is a brilliant piece of post-modern design executed at the end of the 1970s. Everard Read represents around 80 artists, including the brilliant work of Lionel Smit who has exhibited in Germany, Holland, London and Hong Kong and lesser-known South African talents such as Keith Joubert, Hanneke Benade, Henk Serfontein, and Anton Brink.

3. SMAC Gallery

Art Gallery

The Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary Gallery was established in the De Wet building in Stellenbosch in 2006 and has, since 2011, been an important exhibition space in Cape Town. The SMAC Gallery promotes South African and international contemporary artists and has hosted retrospective exhibitions, new works and review shows. The SMAC also publishes regular monographs on the works of the artists they represent, and they exhibit internationally at Milan and Torino, Basel, Madrid, and at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Amongst the artists the SMAC Gallery represents are Johann Louw, one of the most well-known painters in South Africa, the London-based Helen Pritchard, and the abstract painter Sandile Zulu.

4. Stevenson Gallery

Building, Art Gallery

Stevenson Gallery for contemporary art, on Lowry Road, in Woodstock, Cape Town, in South Africa
© Monica Wells / Alamy Stock Photo
The Stevenson Gallery runs exhibition spaces in Cape Town and Johannesburg and began with a single space in Cape Town in 2003 under the name of Michael Stevenson. In 2008, the Johannesburg space was opened and the Cape Town gallery moved to a new building in the Woodstock area of the city. The gallery showcases both South African and international contemporary artists, aiming to introduce artists whose work is previously unknown in South Africa. The Stevenson Gallery exhibits internationally at major events including Frieze London and New York, Art Basel Miami Beach, and Paris Photo. Amongst the international artists gathered by the gallery have been the American conceptualist Glenn Ligon, the Lebanese Walid Raal, the Swiss Thomas Hirschhorn, and the Belgian Francis Alys.

5. Unisa Space Gallery

Art Gallery, University

The Unisa Space Gallery is part of the University of South Africa in Pretoria, the largest university in South Africa founded in 1873. The gallery was established in 1986 and now represents a major collection of contemporary art by South African artists. The collection began in the 1960s, with the university looking to build works for teaching purposes in the Fine Art Department. With the gallery being set up to show off the collections of contemporary works in 1986, a new exhibition space was built in 1988. Today, the Unisa Space Gallery is a key showcase for students at the university to make connections with prospective buyers and patrons and to show off the permanent collection of 1500 works including ceramics, paintings, drawings and carvings.

6. Whatiftheworld

Art Gallery

The Whatiftheworld Gallery was established in the Woodstock area of Cape Town in what was once a neighbourhood dominated by industry in the early 20th century. The gallery began with a small group of South African contemporary artists who wished to promote a new vision, differing from the protest conceptualism of their forebears within the art scene. Whatiftheworld is now providing a platform to a set of artists beyond their original stable and is also a publisher of monographs and catalogues detailing the works of their artists. As well as holding solo and group exhibitions, the Whatiftheworld Gallery has links with international shows in New York and Switzerland and has provided work to be exhibited at the Venice Biennial, the Dakar Biennial, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

7. Wits Art Museum

Art Gallery, Museum, University

Wits Art Museum exhibition of work of art-activist Zanele Muholi
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Wits Art Museum is part of the University of the Witwatersrand and holds a celebrated collection of contemporary works by artists from South, Central and West Africa. The gallery began as a small collection in the 1950s and was developed by Professors Heather Martienssen and John Fassler from the Architecture Department of the university. With the provision of funds in the 1960s and a partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, the museum was able to build a larger collection including major archives of works by Gerard Sekoto, a leading figure in the emergence of modern art in South Africa, and Robert Hodgins. The building that houses the Wits Art Museum won international praise upon its opening, including the 2012 Visi Magazine Architecture Award.

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