Discovering Art and Culture in Cape Town

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 30, 2019

In the shadow of Table Mountain, an art haven is booming. From galleries to one of the world's most impressive contemporary art spaces, Cape Town is proving to be a bastion of artistic expression.

The South African city has long been a place for artists to find inspiration, thanks to its sweeping views, cultural diversity, and abundant galleries — including a standout private collection within an oceanfront hotel.

Evolving Architecture for Art
Most recently, the biggest artsy splash came with the September 2017 opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA). Located on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, the museum is a stunning vision of industrial conversion. All 102,000 square feet of space occupy a massive former grain silo complex, which was built in 1921 but stood empty since 1990.

Today, Zeitz MOCAA stands like an architectural monument to Cape Town's industrial past. Except that now its nine stories serve as a marvelous modern art museum with the structure as magnificent as the works it exhibits. Its 80 galleries and sky-lit atrium are carved from the dense concrete of its 42 original silo tubes, two of which serve as elevator shafts, along with an elevated restaurant, roof terrace, bookshop and reading rooms.

The permanent collection is well worth exploring and features works from Africa and its diaspora. Exhibits change throughout the year, and with the price of admission ($13 USD), visitors also can join its enlightening tours, offered several times daily.

The addition of Zeitz MOCAA has helped broaden the V&A Waterfront's appeal as a traveler-friendly neighborhood of revitalized warehouse and harborside spaces.

Hospitality and Local Artists

Just over Cape Town's Signal Hill, the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa stands proudly on the edge of Camps Bay, its twin white gables serving as location markers for sailors since the 1920s. These days, the Twelve Apostles is a stunning hotel built against the edge of Table Mountain.

The view outward to the harbor and the peaks are spectacular. But look inward for a unique, private art and antique furniture collection built by the Tollman family, owners of the luxury, boutique Red Carnation Hotels.

All 19 of the family's properties champion art by local and emerging artists. At its three South African hotels (including Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat and Oyster Box), guests can appreciate the original works displayed in each suite, inside Azure Restaurant, and throughout the hotel.

"We always try to use as many locally produced materials as possible, thus creating a subtle fusion of past and present, and a sense of discovery in every room," says Toni Tollman, director of design and products for Red Carnation Hotels. "There are so many pieces that are extremely special and that we went to great effort to find. For me, one of the real highlights is the outstanding ceramic tile murals from the late South African ceramicist and artist, Esias Bosch. These incredible pieces seamlessly blend the exterior walls with the scenery."

The Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, founded in 2003, supports South African artists and each year awards a grant of 100,000 rand ($7,000 USD) to a young artist whose talent and potential may be restricted by limited resources. Works by grant recipients are part of the Twelve Apostles' art collection, along with prints, paintings, sculptures, and other works by renowned local artists.

Arts Around Cape Town

Galleries abound across Cape Town, and the long-running First Thursdays invites travelers to absorb works and nightlife at spots open late (until 9 p.m. or later). The robust roster of downtown galleries, shops and restaurants are listed on the website, and print maps are available at each location.

If you're not in town on a first Thursday of the month, be sure to check out what related cultural events are on at the First Thursdays Facebook feed, including readings, live music, comedy shows, tastings and screenings. Between outings, break for a bit of comfort food at queer-owned, eclectic Raptor Room.

Among the go-to art spots, head to Gallery MOMO a contemporary gallery located amid the striking bright colors of the historic Bo-Kaap neighborhood. For South African works that focus on local flora and fauna and landscapes, drift over to Cape Gallery, also in the old city.

The Iziko Museums of South Africa of Cape Town operate 11 national museums, archives, and a planetarium, but none are as prestigious as the South African National Gallery, home to outstanding African and European collections.

Decidedly more modern (and Instagram-friendly), art can also be found at hipster hangouts like the Grand Daddy hotel on Long Street, where you can check out the latest art exhibit at the third-floor Venue gallery. Don't miss the hotel's camp-style rooftop bar located on a patio between seven Airstream trailers that double as guestrooms.

At Gorgeous George hotel, head to the rooftop for Cape Town's most beautiful cocktail and dining scene. After a spell soaking up city culture, the lounge feels like the perfect reflection on the best local art and events, under the giant illuminated greeting that hails to all who visit: "Hello gorgeous."

Want to coordinate your Cape Town visit with Pride? Cape Town Pride is held each year from late February through early March.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.

Comments on Facebook