As South African artists find their voice, their work is becoming very collectible and there are few things more satisfying than coming home with a painting or sculpture that will forever remind you of a fabulous holiday. Scouting the galleries, discovering a whole new array of talent, and even doing the deal can become an infinitely pleasurable an art lovers' treasure hunt. South Africa has many art galleries, ranging from rather strange places filled with funky souvenirs to serious commercial players dealing at the highest level.
Most of the major galleries are in either Johannesburg or the Cape - this is where the money is. Durban does have some interesting artists but they tend to be more rooted in local Zulu and Xhosa tradition. This list includes ten of the biggest players in South Africa. For a few more, have a look at the Fine Art Portfolio, a consortium of several excellent small galleries who have grouped together to market themselves online. Also check out my list of "Unusual South African Art", for some truly unique galleries.
Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town - The Goodman Gallery is at the forefront of contemporary art in South Africa. Its focus is on artists - from South Africa, the greater African Continent, and other countries - who engage in a dialogue with the African context.
Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town - First founded in 1912, Everard Read is probably the single-most famous commercial art dealer in South Africa. They are now housed in a purpose-built gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg, in the Cape Town Waterfront complex and have recently build the contemporary urban Circa on Jellicoe studio space in Johannesburg. Their concentration is on searching out and promoting the finest of South African talent but they do also deal in South African old masters.
Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg - Gallery MOMO is a contemporary art gallery that launched in 2003 under the directorship of Monna Mokoena. The gallery represents a prominent selection of local and international artists, including artists from the Diaspora, who work across disciplines.
Association for Visual Arts (AVA) , Cape Town - First set up in the 1970s but now owned by Spier, the AVA is one of Cape Town's most exciting art galleries. Everything is for sale but this community-based enterprise holds constantly changing four-weekly exhibitions which allow many new unrepresented artists their first chance of exposure at a major gallery. Entry is free making it not only a great opportunity to snap up a local artist before they become famous but a wonderful city centre tourist attraction.
João Ferriera Gallery, Cape Town - The gallery was established in Cape Town, South Africa in 1998, and has gained a reputation for being one of the country's leading galleries for artists and art collectors. The gallery specializes in contemporary South African art, with regular exhibitions of work in many media.
Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town - Although he focused initially only on local artists, widely published art historian Michael Stevenson has broadened his remit with time and works with African artists from across the continent and the diaspora, selling both contemporary pieces and works stretching back to the 19th century. The main gallery, in Woodstock, Cape Town, works in conjunction with the Brodie/Stevenson Gallery in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
WhatiftheWorld, Cape Town - Whatiftheworld acts as a platform for a new generation of emerging South African contemporary artists, and was selected in 2007 by Contemporary Magazine (London) as one of the 'Top 50 Emerging Galleries
from Around the World.' This fast-rising young gallery has become a destination point for curators and collectors to experience innovative work, and to become acquainted with some new names.
SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch - The Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary (SMAC) Art Gallery has earned acclaim for successfully hosting a series of thought-provoking exhibitions accompanied by well researched publications. SMAC is primarily concerned with the significance of historical and contemporary art movements in South Africa such as the modernist abstract era, the protest era and the neglected contribution of African artists in the post-war period. A branch of SMAC recently opened in Cape Town.
Knysna Fine Arts, Knysna - Founded in 1997 by Trent Read, the son of Everard Read from the Cape Town art gallery dynasty (the 5th generation of the family to enter the art trade), this Garden Route gallery has quickly garnered interest both at home and abroad. It specializes in contemporary South African art but is also, increasingly bringing in international artists to sell to interested South Africans.
KZNSA Gallery, Durban - A membership gallery that has been going for nearly a century, the NSA has regularly changing exhibitions of local artists with a big annual exhibition. It also has an excellent shop that sells a design and craft from across the country. While perhaps not always on the international cutting edge, it offers an interesting take on local talent and showcases many up and coming new artists including those who have emerged through its community outreach programmes.