Where the Art Scenesters Are

Every city has its art scene: The cool spots where arty types gather to discover and appreciate new talent. Here are the pockets of creativity in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town you need to know about.

By James Sey
The Inside Out Centre in Forest Town

Johannesburg and Cape Town are the South African cities that dominate the landscape of cutting edge art and creative spaces in the country, as befits their staging of the premier local art fairs in February and September. This may be changing with the launch of the Durban Art Fair in July this year, but undeniably South Africa’s art scene is dominated by its two biggest urban centres. However, away from their main gallery precincts, where are some of the spots for art lovers to catch emerging talents and exciting new vibes?

In the old CBD of Jozi, the ‘open studio’ concept has taken hold, with multistorey buildings converted into classic artist’s studio colonies. Meta Foundation, an arts NGO based at the most prominent of these, at August House in Doornfontein, organises Open Studio weekends to coincide with the city’s Arts Fairs, at August House and at Ellis House in nearby Jeppestown. With shuttles laid on to get visitors in and out safely, these are well worth checking out for new talent and emerging artists to watch.

August House

Speaking of the city’s art fairs, keep an eye out for this year’s Latitudes Art Fair in Johannesburg in May. Last staged in Sandton in 2019, Latitudes relaunches this year in a bespoke new venue that resembles a cross between Kubla Khan’s Xanadu and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon! This is Shepstone Gardens, which used to be a reasonably straightforward wedding venue at the foot of the Linksfield Ridge on the East side of the city. Now the venue has been rebuilt as an amalgam of baroque turrets, rock gardens and Victorian outdoor conservatories. It’s truly amazing, and well worth a peek.

Shepstone Gardens in Johannesburg, the RMB Latitudes Venue

Victoria Yards has been around for a while now, in the less than salubrious surrounds of Lorentzville. Apart from being an award-winning redevelopment of the original century-old steam laundry buildings on the site, Vic Yards hosts not only artists’ studios and exhibition spaces, but supports many sustainability and community upliftment initiatives, including feeding schemes and free education and upskilling workshops for the surrounding poor communities.

In terms of art institutions, venerable old Forest Town, next to Joburg Zoo, has become something of a museum hub in Jozi. The newly opened Inside Out Centre for the Arts, founded and run by renowned artist Roger Ballen, is a museum, education and exhibition space which joins the nearby Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre museum.

Cape Town is also well served by private museums, with the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art at the Waterfront and the Norval Foundation Museum in Tokai leading the way. Away from these world-class museum spaces, the city itself boasts many fascinating art spaces.

The A4 Arts Foundation is an incubator, project space and gallery tucked away on the east side of the city, in Buitenkant Street in the storied old District Six. It plays host to artists-in-residence and is internationally connected.

As parts of Woodstock have gentrified over the last few years, the area has generally become a destination for the established contemporary galleries, with the likes of Goodman Gallery (which has since moved) Stevenson and SMAC all resident there. A little known gem in Woodstock is the Greatmore Studio complex, tucked away for many years, in a rather faded but grand old Woodstock house. It’s worth a visit for discovering emerging artists and getting a close-up of work in progress.

An organic gallery hub has emerged recently in the area around Church Street in the middle of the CBD. Long-time resident gallery Association For Visual Arts (in its current incarnation more than 50 years old) has been joined by innovative contemporary spaces like Nel, WorldArt and Church projects – the latter in an amazing sliver of a building on two levels, hardly wider than the door at its entrance. Church stages experimental installation and performance work, keeping Cape Town at the sharp end of the contemporary scene.

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