The contemporary art scene in South Africa - and in Cape Town specifically - is flourishing and has developed significantly over the past 10 years, providing a very popular tourist destination. As well as the many arts and culture museums, galleries and institutions around the city, Cape Town also hosts the Investec Cape Town Art Fair which takes place annually in February.
If you are planning your visit to the ‘Mother City’ make sure you add these must-see Galleries to your list.
We’ve already listed the best Galleries to see in the East City area of Cape Town in PART 1 of this series – read it here.
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.
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.
Cape Town - City Centre:
AVA Gallery (Association for Visual Arts)
Start your city centre art journey on Church Street - the bustling hub of creativity, filled with cultural spaces and fantastic galleries showcasing the latest South African artistic talent. The AVA is a must visit space - it is Cape Town`s oldest non-profit, members based, public benefit organisation and art gallery. Showcasing contemporary South African art in all media – from painting through to ceramics, photography, installations and performance – by established and emerging artists, the AVA aims to promote the discursive and experimental nature of South African art.
AVA Gallery in Cape Town
Continue your visit to Church street and just opposite you will find WORLDART. Specialising in contemporary art, the art on show is very modern with a leaning towards urban (graffiti and street art) and pop art inspired. Next door is The Cape Gallery where you will discover a huge selection of local artworks and sculpture for sale, as well as Eclectica Contemporary which hosts an exciting and always changing exhibition programme featuring artists from around the continent.
Installation view of a solo exhibition by Norman O'Flynn at WORLDART Gallery in Cape Town
On the corner of Church and Long streets is Nel - an artist owned and run gallery. Hosting a constantly changing exhibition of paintings, sculptures and ceramics, with occasional performance art experiences. Visit the space and make sure you climb the spiral staircase to see the exhibition on the 2nd floor, as well as the quirky decorated ‘Garden of future nostalgia’.
While you are in the city centre, visit the fourth floor of the old Exchange Building in the historic area of St. George's Mall, to see the contemporary art and furniture on show at THEFOURTH. The space is both commercial and informative - bridging art and design, both contemporary and mid-century, local and international and aiming to share the history of design and its inextricable relationship with art. Comprising of a gallery, a concept store and a private bar, contact the space before your visit as they are not always open to the public but may require prior booking.
Head up to Loop Street to visit 99 Loop Gallery - a gallery showcasing contemporary art by both emerging and established local talent. The gallery has a constantly changing and dynamic exhibition program, with multiple exhibitions on show throughout it’s two storey space. On your way there, pop in to Chandler House or visit GalleryOne11 a bit further down Loop Street.
Installation View of ‘Makwande’, a solo show by Aviwe Plaatjie at Ebony/Curated.
Ebony is a stylish and exclusive design space that showcases modern South African furniture, home accessories and fine art and has 3 spaces in the area - 2 located in Franschhoek and 1 on Loop Street in the city centre. The gallery has built a solid reputation for exhibiting exciting talent from the continent and the greater African Diaspora, and is definitely worth a visit.
Journey up to Bree Street and you can’t miss the Youngblood arts & culture foundation - a three storey gallery, with an open plan space that caters for a range of exhibitions, performances, rehearsals and functions of all sizes. There is always something exciting going on or art on show to see. When you’re on Bree street, you can also visit Heritage Square - as well as being packed with amazing restaurants and historic buildings, you will also find Sisonke Gallery which hosts regular exhibitions featuring local artists from the Spier Art Trust, Alliance Francaise and the artist’s residency program at the Cape Heritage Hotel.
'As Above So Below' Installation view at WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery
“Part question, part purpose and part statement, their name anticipates the gallery’s program: a host of ambitious projects that promote curiosity and thought.” Travel on to Buiten Street (a comfortable 10 minute walk along Bree Street) to visit WHATIFTHEWORLD - a contemporary gallery displaying influential artists who engage with global and local socio-political contexts. They frequently display multi-disciplinary installations and video, making this space every contemporary art lover’s dream.
There is so much to see around the central city area in Cape Town, but don’t feel discouraged or overwhelmed! You can make an evening of it by timing your visit with the monthly First Thursdays event.
First Thursdays is about access to the arts and injecting life into urban spaces after hours, so a collection of art galleries and cultural attractions stay open to the public until late. If you’re in the centre of Cape Town on the first Thursday of the month make sure you grab a map from one of the Galleries or visit their website to see whats planned in their cultural programme - which includes art galleries, performances, retail stores, restaurants and bars.
99 Loop Gallery on First Thursdays in Cape Town.
End of part two
Find out more about what Art Galleries to visit in the East City of Cape Town in PART ONE of the series here>>>