The contemporary art scene in South Africa has developed significantly over the past 10 years, particularly in the ‘Mother City’ of Cape Town, a very popular tourist destination in the country. Not only are the mountains, beaches, wine farms and waterfront an attraction for every visitor, but the city also boasts an abundant and complex cultural and political history, and there are many museums and cultural institutions to teach you more about the area and the people who live in it. With the addition of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in 2017, as well as the annual Investec Cape Town Art Fair which takes place in February, Cape Town’s art scene is flourishing. The city is widely acknowledged to be an epicentre for African art with many of the country’s most exciting and highly regarded artists residing in the metropole.
So if you’re visiting Cape Town and would like to find the best art galleries to visit whilst you are here, you’ve come to the right place!
StateoftheART is located right in the middle of the trendy ‘East City’ area of Cape Town, close to other arts institutions and within close walking distance of cultural attractions. We have been an active participant in the Cape Town arts scene for more than 10 years, and love to share personal insights into our local galleries and exhibitions by talented artists with enthusiastic visitors. Art lovers planning a visit to Cape Town should plan their trip for the month of February to coincide with the annual Investec Cape Town Art Fair held at the CTICC. It is one of the largest and most diverse art fairs on the continent and showcases a very broad range of African contemporary art. February is also summer in South Africa and the arts scene is buzzing - alive with energy and numerous events and exhibitions aligned with the art fair.
As the city is spread across different precincts, we recommend choosing one specific area to visit at a time so that you can immerse yourself in the heritage and enjoy the galleries and cultural institutions in that district. Visiting art galleries is free of charge, however the city’s museums do charge an entrance fee.
Whether you are looking to see the work of up-and-coming or well-established talent, plan your visit and see some of our top picks selected by area. To begin, we are sharing art galleries to visit that are located in the East City area of Cape Town.
Read Part 2 about art galleries to see in the City centre here.
Cape Town - East City:
A4 Art Foundation
Visit Buitenkant Street and you will find the A4 Arts Foundation - a striking orange building home to a not-for-profit arts centre. The space is free to the public and includes a gallery or project space, a multimedia library and an archive. A4’s aim is to explore “the reception, application, approach and advancement of the arts in the public realm”, and they frequently host international artists on visiting residencies. On your way there, don’t miss the District Six Museum - a family friendly museum tracing the forced clearance of 60,000 residents & demolition of homes under apartheid in the 1970s.
image: A4 Arts Foundation
Open 24 Hrs
As the name suggests, Open 24 Hrs is accessible and open to visitors any time of the day or night. Located in the foyer of The Harrington, a retail and commercial building, the space presents an exciting exhibition programme and also offers artists studio space in the building for 3-month periods. Their website states: “there should be nothing hierarchical about art. Drawing on our belief that art appreciation is not the preserve of the privileged few, we invite everyone to experience a space created for artists to present their ideas, unfiltered.” Find the space at 50 Harrington Street, right next to the iconic New York Bagels.
image: Open 24 Hrs - "Sans" exhibition
That’s us! StateoftheART is a curated online gallery specialising in South African art. Our exhibition showroom is located on 50 Buitenkant Street in Cape Town - pop in to see the latest work by our exceptional local artists and browse our Stockroom: we display a wide range of creative disciplines and encourage young and emerging talent alongside well established artists. And if a piece catches your eye our professional team will gladly assist with shipping the artwork safely to your door, worldwide.
After your visit, we recommend a coffee and snack at Truth Coffee down the road, or browse the great local titles (with a large selection of art books) for sale at the Book Lounge around the corner.
image: StateoftheART Gallery in 2021
South African National Gallery (Iziko)
While you are visiting the east side of the city, make sure you take a stroll through the Company’s Garden and don’t miss the National Gallery which houses an outstanding collection of South African, African and European art. The exhibitions change regularly to showcase a mixture of paintings, works on paper, photography, sculpture, beadwork, textiles and architecture and they frequently host very powerful guest exhibitions. Note: entrance fee applicable.
image: 'South African National Gallery in Cape Town' by PhilipN
End of part one.
Find more art galleries to visit in the city centre of Cape Town in Part 2 of our series here>>