.M Contemporary art trip to South Africa

Hi there! Things have been really busy here at .M Contemporary setting up the permanent gallery space in Woollahra and getting ready for a host of new shows as well as Sydney Contemporary 13 in September (more news on this soon). Having recently though come back from a very inspiring, whirlwind trip to South Africa to meet and scout new artists for our 2014 .M Contemporary shows, I thought I’d write some of my observations of the scene over there. Overall there’s a really great, dynamic energy in the air with so much variety and art being produced by new and established artists alike. We got some great artists for our 2014 program with more to be confirmed soon so we’re really excited. Read on for more insight into the Johannesburg part of our trip.

(all pixs are from studio and gallery visits in Jo’burg. Stay tuned for the .M Contemporary 2013 and 2014 program in which many of these artists will feature).

Jo'burg art tour

The Johannesburg – or Jo’burg – scene is very different from the relaxed, ‘European’-seeming Cape Town. You can feel an energy in the air in Jo’burg. Where Cape town is more intimate and seems to move at a relaxed pace, Jo’burg is busy and sprawling. The people in Jo’burg love Jo’burg. They say it’s where things are happening, entrepreneurs are making it big, people work hard and play hard. And you can see it – lots of luxury German cars to see.

The contrast between rich and poor is very evident in Johannesburg. It’s more in your face than in Cape Town where the upper class areas are centered around the mountain and the poverty feels farther away. In Jo’burg the poverty is mixed throughout the wealthier areas. You find yourself driving through more priviledged suburbs like Bryanston and Sandton where houses take up whole blocks and are surrounded by 12 foot high walls yet within minutes you are in the city centre where beautiful, old art deco buildings are overrun with squatters, absent landlords having given up on managing the buildings long ago. Johannesburg gives me the feeling that although South Africa has come a long way in repairing and rebuilding itself as a nation, there is still so far to go.

Jo'burg studio visits

If you don’t know Jo’burg, it’s easy to think it’s a terrible city. If you know where to go though you’ll find islands of thriving art galleries, markets and shops that easily rival the quality and creativity of Cape Town’s scene. Some of the best places I found where these:

  • 44 Stanley in Milpark – a series industrial 1930s buildings that have been turned into boutiques, restaurants, shops, and Gallery AOP (galleryaop.com).
  • Braamfontein hosts the Neighbourgoods Market on a Saturday (an extension of the Cape Town market by the same name – neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za). These Markets are made up of dozens of food stalls and clothing pop-ups attracting hundreds of people. At a market like this it becomes apparent how impeccably dressed Jo’burg youth is. The sheer volume of fabulous-looking girls and guys is something that really sets apart Joburg (http://bit.ly/N0TK50) –  many outfits a combination of both new and thrift store finds. Around the market, which is housed on various lower levels of a skyscraper, there are shops, and restaurants, coffee shops, and art galleries such as…
  • Stevenson (stevenson.info)
  • Kalashnikovv Gallery (on.fb.me/140Fg0C), a tiny gallery with some of the best emerging work in South Africa (bit.ly/qixhU6).

I also really enjoyed Rosebank which is a middle class suburb of Jo’burg which plays host to a couple more galleries. Some of my favourites there were:

Jo'burg artist studio visits

On a Sunday Jo’burgers migrate to the Maboneng precinct. Driving through the city centre can feel scary – it’s chaotic. Minibus taxis everywhere, people are moving everywhere, hawkers, beggars, children are everywhere, there’s poverty as well as walls filled with flyers for penis enlargement potions. Getting into Maboneng though you realise you’ve reached yet another island of calm in amongst the chaos when you spot the first couple of BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes parked on the sidewalk, the passengers of which can only be enjoying the fantastic arts offersings such as restaurants and markets around the main attraction which is Arts on Main market (much the same as the Neighbourgoods Market). There are collaborative spaces, some of which are so notable that they’ve attracted big sponsors such as Adidas Originals (area3.co.za).

It’s all very cool. Again, the people look sophisticated, and apartheid seems to be but a memory here. It feels like the future of South Africa and Africa, but with the energy, the emerging artists, the chaos and ever-changing visual art, in the back of your mind you know it’s just the beginning.

This post was kindly co-written by Andrew Versfeld, brand strategist & culture enthusiast and friend of .M Contemporary. Thanks Andrew!

PS. Here’s a video we found on vimeo which gives you even more of a taste of what the scene is like. Enjoy.

JOBURG PARTY! A snapshot of South Africa’s new youth underground from Windeck Productions on Vimeo.