With its vibrant multicultural scene and sometimes troubled past, it’s no wonder that South Africa is a hotbed of contemporary art. During the apartheid era, art was a powerful means of protesting against injustice. Today, South Africa’s diverse artists explore questions of race and identity, and what it means to be (South) African in today’s world. They draw on the country’s rich heritage and fuse this with modern influences to create art that is recognized around the world for its unique and powerful voice.
Spending time in South Africa will give you a chance to see the best of its modern art – you might even find a special piece for that empty spot at home! We’ve wiped the paint off our hands for just long enough to compile this list of some of the best modern art galleries in South Africa.
Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg
This Jo’burg space has a reputation as an incubator of new talent, hosting exhibitions by up-and-coming artists. Wherever you may see their work in the future, you saw it here first! The youth and freshness of many of the artists whose work is displayed here are reflected in their need to push the boundaries of modern art – and this includes international boundaries, with MOMO frequently hosting international artists in residence as they interact with new and stimulating environments. Collaborations between local and overseas artists have led to some amazing creations.
WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
This gallery is all about transformation, from its location in a decommissioned synagogue to the impact it has had on the young artists whose careers have been nurtured here. It has played a key role in the transition of South African contemporary art from protest art into a more diverse body of work, introducing new themes, concerns, and even humor. Many of South Africa’s leading artists received a helping hand from WHATIFTHEWORLD, with its bare white walls proving to be not only a canvas but a launchpad.
KZNSA Gallery, Durban
Beginning life as an informal workshop environment where artists could exchange ideas, a century later that philosophy is still going strong at the KZNSA Gallery. The KwaZulu-Natal Society for the Arts is a not-for-profit organization that deftly balances being a public exhibition space, and providing opportunities for artists to pursue their ambitions. This inclusive approach has inspired some memorable events, conversations, and artworks. Durban is known for its surfer culture, but its thriving gallery scene is a chance to look a little deeper into what makes this sunny coastal city tick.
Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery, Stellenbosch
A ‘SMAC’ in the face of complacency, this Western Cape Gallery assists artists who are working to establish international links, as well as represent the past and future of the rainbow nation. It specializes in large, museum-quality exhibitions of contemporary artwork, which are thoughtfully displayed and meticulously researched. With South Africa’s art scene expanding as a way to express and understand everything that is happening in these dynamic times, SMAC opened a second gallery in Cape Town in 2011 to further its contribution to today’s vital discussions.
Maboneng Township Arts Experience, Johannesburg
Not one gallery, but many. This multi-award-winning modern art project is focused on training artists and families to turn their homes into exhibition spaces. You can then book home gallery tours online and buy local art directly from the artists, helping them to become established and spreading South Africa’s message of hope and tolerance around the world. It also creates the perfect opportunity for meaningful cultural exchanges, which in turn inspire new artworks. As well as exploring current street art themes, you can venture into parts of the city that you might not otherwise have discovered. This exciting project is helping to solve the problem of the artists from the Townships not having access to exhibit their artworks in city galleries by creating a network of home galleries just bursting with talent.
Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town
The most exciting modern art gallery in South Africa is not actually open yet – but it will be well worth the wait! Work is under way to convert the iconic Grain Silo building in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront into a multi-story exhibition space for the Zeitz Collection – probably the most important collection of contemporary African art in the world. Zeitz MOCAA is due to open September 2017, and until then, a selection of pieces from the Collection are on display at the nearby temporary MOCAA Pavilion. If you’ve visited Cape Town recently, you’ll have seen the glass towers of this incredible new gallery reaching for the skies; if not, be sure to stop by and take a look next time you visit. Even before it’s completed, Zeitz MOCAA has become a local landmark and once it opens its doors, it will place Cape Town – and South Africa – even more firmly on the modern art map. If you can’t wait until the end of the year, and you like to mix sculpture with your safari, check out Segera Retreat in Kenya, where many pieces from the Zeitz Collection are on display in an incredible bush setting.