If you're planning a trip to South Africa, purchasing a locally made painting or sculpture is the perfect way to commemorate a fabulous vacation. South African artists are becoming increasingly collectible, and scouting galleries, discovering a whole new array of talent, and brokering a deal are all infinitely pleasurable aspects of the art lovers' treasure hunt. South Africa has many art galleries, ranging from quirky places filled with unusual souvenirs to serious commercial players dealing at the highest level.
Most of the major galleries dealing in fine art are located in either Johannesburg or the Western Cape - because this is where South Africa's money is. Durban also has some interesting artists, many of whom focus on local Zulu and Xhosa artistic tradition. This list includes nine of the biggest commercial art galleries 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.
Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg and Cape Town
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 South African diaspora, who work across many different disciplines. It also has a residency program for up-and-coming artists. The gallery has exhibition spaces in Parktown North, Johannesburg; and Cape Town city center.
Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town
Established in Johannesburg in 1966, the Goodman Gallery is at the forefront of contemporary art in South Africa. It features artists from South Africa and the greater African continent who have shaped the identity of contemporary art in Africa, as well as international artists who explore themes within an African context.
Visitors to the Western Cape can explore the gallery's southern branch in the Capetonian suburb of Woodstock.
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 housed in a purpose-built gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg; and in Cape Town's iconic V&A Waterfront complex. The dealer also has an ultra-modern studio space in Johannesburg called Circa on Jellicoe. Everard Read concentrates on searching out and promoting the finest contemporary South African talent, while also dealing in South African old masters.
Michael Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town
Although he initially focused exclusively 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. His gallery sells 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.
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 at this community-based enterprise, which hosts constantly changing four-weekly exhibitions that allow many new unrepresented artists their first chance of exposure at a major gallery. Entry is free, making it a wonderful city center tourist attraction as well as affording great opportunities to invest in a local artist before they become famous.
WhatiftheWorld, Cape Town
Whatiftheworld acts as a platform for a new generation of South African contemporary artists, and was selected by Contemporary Magazine (London) as one of the 'Top 50 Emerging Galleries
from Around the World.' This fast-rising young gallery has become a place for curators and collectors to experience innovative work, and to become acquainted with some new names. It is housed in a decommissioned synagogue in Woodstock, Cape Town.
SMAC Gallery, Cape Town and 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. There is a second branch of SMAC in Cape Town.
Knysna Fine Arts, Knysna
Knysna Fine Arts was founded in 1997 by Trent Read, the son of Everard Read from the Cape Town art gallery dynasty (and the fifth generation of the family to enter the art trade). A favorite stop for art lovers traveling the Garden Route, this gallery quickly garnered interest both at home and abroad. It specializes in contemporary South African art but is also increasingly bringing in the works of international artists to sell to interested South Africans.
KZNSA Gallery, Durban
A membership gallery that has been running for well over a century, the KZNSA features regularly changing exhibitions of local artwork in addition to a big annual exhibition. It also has an excellent shop that sells 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 programs.
This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on December 5th 2017.