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Cape Town Travel Guide

Art Lover’s Guide to Cape Town

Once the 100,000-square-foot Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) opens on the V&A Waterfront in September 2017, it will reign as Africa’s largest contemporary art gallery—and one of the world’s most influential art institutions. Everything about it is cutting edge, from the creative re-use of historic grain silos to its devotion to African artists telling their stories in fresh new ways. Until the museum officially opens, you can view select works from the collection at the temporary Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa Pavilion near the Bascule Bridge at the V&A Waterfront. In the meantime, Cape Town already has a footing in the contemporary art world, with venues ranging from innovative galleries to private township homes. Here are six art experiences in Cape Town to enjoy in anticipation of the Zeitz’s grand opening.

Big and Small Art Museums


For starters, the South African National Gallery, founded in 1871, provides an overview of South African art in the country’s most revered art museum. You’ll find an outstanding collection of South African, African, British, French, and Dutch art ranging from colonial times to the present day; especially intriguing are the examples of apartheid art. But for something a little edgier, check out The New Church Museum. Centered around the personal collection of financier and art collector Piet Viljoen, the country’s first privately funded contemporary art museum partners with other museums to displays its works. The latest show, Our Lady, in partnership with the South African National Gallery, explores the artistic representation of women in art over the past 170 years—and counters status quo beliefs of her one-dimensional role as saint or sinner, wife or witch, virgin or whore.

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The Woodstock Scene    


Emerging from a once gritty, best-avoided neighborhood, Cape Town’s vibrant creative district is all about innovative art and good eating. The heart of it all is the Old Biscuit Mill, a former cookie factory where several shops purvey locally produced art, décor, and crafts. Check out Bead and Glass Cabin, Karoo Moon Country Store, and Hayden Craft for starters. When two art heavyweights, Goodman and Michael Stevenson Galleries, moved to the Woodstock neighborhood in 2007, the transformation was on. These galleries have represented some of South Africa’s biggest names—William Kentridge, Candice Breitz, and Pieter Hugo among them—as well as international stars. Smaller galleries followed, including Whatiftheworld, focusing on emerging South African artists (some of whom have gone on to show at places like New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the London Art Fair). Today, six major galleries are sprinkled within walking distance among design studios and interior design firms, making Woodstock one of the country’s best art scenes.

Insider Tip: The neighborhood is also adorned with fascinating street art that provides social commentary in a positive way. Take a walking tour with a local mural artist to see what the fuss is about, on a Woodstock Art and Graffiti Tour.

A New Kind of Art Festival


Masses of collectors, dealers, and artists converge on Cape Town every year to attend Africa’s leading international art festival at the Cape Town Art Fair. The four-day event is the place to see the latest cutting-edge innovation in the contemporary art world. But that’s only one of many Cape Town art events that take place throughout the year. That Art Fair is a relatively new event that presents up-and-coming young artists from the continent, focusing on comic art, fashion exhibits, and graffiti murals. Infecting the City features outdoor installations, participatory artworks, and performances, along with stationary and mobile exhibitions.

Insider Tip: Check with the local tourism folks to obtain a full list of annual art events. It’s hard to keep up with everything going on!

Maboneng Township Arts Experience   


Back in 2001, local township artist Siphiwe Ngwenya was tired of waiting for gallery space to show his work. He came up with the idea of opening township homes as a way to empower local artists, create jobs, promote the arts, and break down interracial barriers in a post-apartheid nation. “What we offer is a beautiful experience for visitors locally and from all over the world to come and experience township in a very innovative way,” he says. At first, it was a two-day annual event that included street performances, film screenings, dance, theater, and music. That wasn’t enough. Today, you can sign up for a walking tour in one of the townships that will take you to the home galleries, as well as art centers and local heritage sites. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a world of talent that might not have been heard otherwise.

The Watershed


Cape Town is an incubator of artistic creativity, and one way to take a tour of the latest trends is to stop by this massive arts market and exhibition space on the V&A Waterfront. Showcasing the works of more than 150 local craftsmen and artisans, it’s your one-stop shop for all kinds of beautiful South African works, from jewelry to fashion to pottery to wire art. Keep an eye out for Art in the Forest, with its beautiful South African ceramics; Master Wires and Bead Craft, expert artisans in traditional wire art; and Siyakatala, showcasing the works of local artists who might otherwise struggle to find venues to show their work. This humming space also offers world-class exhibitions as well as live entertainment.

Galleries About Town


It’s often stated that South African art is underfunded and undersupported, but you’d never know that in the buzzing galleries sprinkled around town, where art is serious business. Perhaps the best example is David Krut’s project spaces (with representation in Johannesburg and New York as well), representing such innovative artists as Diane Victor, who recently showed “smoke drawings” in soot, using a candle flame as a brush. But there are many, many other galleries running the gamut of artistic style and genre—the Cape Gallery, featuring works that express Africa’s cultural identity; João Ferreira Gallery, showcasing both emerging and established local contemporary artists; and WorldArt, specializing in local urban and street art are just some examples.

Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for the monthly First Thursdays art walks as well, a friendly way to explore the city’s art galleries. 

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cape Town Guide

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