Art expert’s choice: 5 of the best art galleries

Respected local art critic and art magazine editor Sean O’Toole shares his views on the top five art galleries to visit in Cape Town.

“Not too long ago, a day’s gallery-hopping meant pinballing between three contemporary art spaces on Sir Lowry Road in Salt River (on the border of Cape Town’s city centre): the warehouse-scale Stevenson gallery, loft-cool Goodman Gallery and pavement-special Blank Projects. That has all changed.

Within easy walking distance of these three spaces there is now a cavernous design gallery (Southern Guild) and triple XL art gallery (SMAC).

Number 1: My favourite of the bunch is Blank. In the past decade it has transformed from a hole-in-the-wall exhibition venue in Bo-Kaap (the suburb on the hillside overlooking Cape Town’s city centre) into a viable commercial dealership representing a host of exciting young artists with a diverse approach to materials and form. That’s one.

Number 2 would be Stevenson gallery in Woodstock, also on the border of the city centre. They have a knack for staging ambitious exhibitions that include visiting international artists. Woodstock isn’t the only place to gawk. My other favourite art precinct, which is also far easier to access on foot or by bicycle – my preferred method – is Church Street in Cape Town’s city centre. The AVA Gallery in Church Street might have hit hard times, but it remains a bellwether of Cape Town’s diverse art scene.

Number 3: Set on the pedestrian-only part of Church Street, across the way from the AVA Gallery is Worldart, The Cape Gallery and Smith, an ambitious start-up space exploring the same zesty, youthful and colour-rich art as Whatiftheworld Gallery, back over in in Salt River. This quirky space is my number three.

Number 4 is collector Piet Viljoen’s private museum, The New Church Museum, showcasing his personal holdings. The turnaround on shows is glacial, but the work here is a top-notch hors d’oeuvre of recent art. You can walk to it from Church Street, along the way passing Commune1, a reliably interesting space.

Number 5: Church Street is also within walking distance of the South African National Gallery. The rhythm of its shows might be uneven, but whenever they host a career retrospective (like recent ones for painter Penny Siopis and photographer Omar Badsha) the result is a knockout.”