Must-See Joburg Art Galleries and Museums
I love visiting Joburg. Far more renowned as the continent’s economic epicentre, this gritty, dynamic and authentic African city also has much to offer in terms of history, culture, art, and architecture. Take a look at the best Joburg art galleries.
The Constitutional Court gives a surreal combination of South African art and justice. Most of the country’s major artists that were active during the last years of Apartheid and the beginning of democracy are exhibited here, a common theme among them displaying the themes of transition, social justice, human rights, constitutional values, reparation and reconciliation. However, their works do not dominate the space, as art, furniture and ‘furnishings’ are integral to the building. Poignant, powerful yet not overwhelming, I wish every major court incorporated and cared about art and design like this. To learn more about the collection, download the PDF brochure
Curatorially brilliant – as you would expect to be part of WITS University – WITS Art Museum has a phenomenal collection of African art. Although only a fraction of the work is on display, the museum offers superb temporary exhibitions and events. When visiting, spare time for a walk around Braamfontein – I like strolling down Juta Street and popping into Stevenson (which is smaller than its “mother gallery” in Cape Town) and Kalashnikovv Gallery.
The start of the Rosebank Art Mile isn’t really much of a “mile” at all, as it is much smaller. A walking distance from the malls of Rosebank and located on the corner of Jan Smut Avenue and Jellicoe Avenue, this formerly quiet street is rapidly evolving into an exciting new hub of art and design. Soon to join the hubbub is Gallery Momo, beautifully designed small space a quick Uber ride away. The electric atmosphere of the “Mile” is unmissable on First Thursday evenings.
- As one gallery gives the impression of a comfy sitting room, and the other looks like a white cube, the artists represented by Circa Gallery and Everard Read are equally varied and of high quality. The Circa building’s intricate design is a sculpture in its own right, and is worth visiting, just to see it.
2.The Trumpet Building next door was received with much fanfare when it opened in late August 2016. With an impressive array of galleries, design stores, and eateries, art lovers can relax and dine after buying art in this chic contemporary space. and tucked away on the first floor is SMAC (Stellenbosch Modern & Contemporary).
3.Goodman Gallery is located on the other end of the ‘Mile”. You can walk here from Circa but most people don’t as it isn’t particularly pleasant. As South Africa’s first contemporary art gallery of note, it is unsurprising that it represents South Africa’s big shot grandees William Kentridge and David Goldblatt.
4.Opposite and next door to the Goodman are smaller galleries, bookshops and coffee shops. It is worth popping to Lizamore & Associates as they usually have stunning solo shows of mid-career artists. Ask about their SA Taxi Foundation Art Award and their other off-site projects.
5.If African ceramics, tribal and handmade objects are your thing, go to Kim Sacks Gallery. If not for the handcrafts, then visit the gallery for the intriguing style of its distinctive building.
Don’t let the dated, corporate concrete architecture put you off. This gallery has all the environmental and security controls to get top loans for its exhibitions. Situated in downtown Joburg amidst vibrant surroundings – most of the big corporate companies have left behind grand edifices which make for good viewing for architecture lovers.
A short drive away (10 mins max) is the Bag Factory Artists Studios – one of the longest established, not-for-profit art spaces encouraging black talent during the dark days of Apartheid, at a time when it was mostly white artists who could study art formally. I like the energy and diversity here.
Another must see studio nearby is Artist Proof Studio in Newtown – also a favourite of mine. As the name suggests, it is all about printmaking. Big name South African artists get prints made here and let APS keep some to fund young print-makers, typically from low-income communities.
Assemblage is another not-for-profit studio and project space located in the township, with newer, vibrant, and passionate artists at different stages of their careers.
Despite its grandness, Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) is situated at the central business district in downtown Joburg, a very rough area. It was designed by the great British architect, Edward Lutyens, over 100 years ago and has one of the best collections of art in Southern Africa, although only a fraction is on display. The gallery is recommended if there is a temporary exhibition that takes your fancy.
Arts on Main in Maboneng – Best enjoyed on weekends, especially Sunday with its Market on Main. Like “Braam”, it has a gritty urban feel, popular with hipsters. William Kentridge had one of the first studios here and still does but you need an appointment to visit, unlike David Kruts Projects and Bookstore next door. Also worth a visit is The Hazard Gallery in the magnificent old Victorian/Edwardian classical Cosmopolitan building.
A quick hop, skip and jump away is August House – a large old warehouse, full of studios, some shared and some well-known names, including Diane Airbus, Mary Sibande, and Bronwyn Lace.
Victoria Yards is the new kid on the block. It is quirky, slightly out of the way (about a km east of Maboneng), not fancy but full of makers, artists, and community. I like the veggies growing between the old industrial buildings! Many of the people who work there live locally, in a very run down area of town. Some are calling it the new Maboneng. There is the Daville Baillie Gallery and Impi Brewing for craft beer in a cool bar.
If you are after outstanding South African, mid-career, site-specific art and design, see if you can pop into Nando’s Central Kitchen Head Office – which is close by. Make sure you call first!
It is said that TwilSharp Studios and Ellis House Art Studio in nearby Bertrams, are worth visiting too.
If old books, drawings by explorer artists/scientists and other Africana is your thing: Johannesburg Public Library and the private Brenthurst Library. An appointment is needed for both. Museum Africa also has a collection of indigenous African cultures – Medieval Ethiopian Art is top of my list.
Liked our list? See our list of our must-see Cape Town art galleries.