Culture + Style

Reveling in Johannesburg’s Dynamic Art Gallery Scene

Johannesburg, South Africa’s capital and largest city, has been at the heart of its business and political world for a very long time. But what some may not be aware of is Joburg’s incredibly rich, culturally diverse contemporary art scene, which has been growing — and even flourishing — for decades now.

Visitors to this city, which is often a study in socioeconomic contrasts, can immerse themselves in the raw creative vibrancy of the continent (and the rest of the world), brought to life by local and international talent pouring out of passionate artists and into Johannesburg’s most dynamic art galleries.

Gallery Momo

Gallery Momo is a great spot to swing by for a fascinating collection of contemporary art coming from the minds of local artists and the African diaspora.

Established in Johannesburg in 2002, and with an exhibition space now open in Cape Town, this gallery supports painters, photographers, sculptors and other inventive types (through its residency program), helping them launch their burgeoning careers.

Gallery Momo strives to promote an array of homegrown talent in the wider contemporary art world. The building’s understated yet elegant design provides plenty of uncluttered room for art lovers and artists alike to celebrate in the creative process.

Circa on Jellicoe

Art and technology come together in a building that’s a work of art in its own right, situated in Johannesburg’s chic Rosebank suburb.

johannesburg art scene
The building alone is worth a visit. (Photo: Getty Images)

Circa, which falls under the nurturing auspices of the Everard Read Gallery (another wonderful space focused on helping young S.A. artists build their careers), puts on art and design exhibitions, multimedia art installations, film presentations and art lectures in an architecturally thought-provoking setting.

The gallery, with three floors of exhibition space, lets guests while the hours away by exploring cutting-edge South African art through film, painting, photography, sculpture and more.

Absa Art Gallery

The impressive Absa Art Gallery, situated in Joburg’s Absa Towers (home to the Absa Financial Group), is a perfect example of how the business and art worlds meld together in Johannesburg.

Architects designed an environment here that lets artists showcase their work in big, open spaces, which highlight the larger-than-life splendor of their creations. Apart from permanent displays, like the towering carved African chairs, or a six-story tuft hand-woven carpet banner, the gallery also hosts rotating art exhibitions, plus a large permanent collection of South African pieces, for visitors to enjoy.

Johannesburg Art Gallery

The Johannesburg Art Gallery (known locally as JAG), only a few minutes away from the Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Parktonian All-Suite, claims the title of the largest art gallery in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 9,000 artworks on display in 15 exhibition halls and sculpture gardens.

johannesburg art scene
Visiting JAG is a must for art lovers. (Photo: Alamy)

The gallery, opened to the masses in 1915, houses Dutch paintings from the 1800s, European and African paintings from different centuries, and a notable collection of contemporary African and South African art.

Since no one can complain about the admission price, which is free, art devotees with eclectic palettes should feel right at home inside the gallery, alongside paintings and sculptures by the likes of Monet, Picasso, Rodin, Gerard Sekoto, Maud Sumner, the South African landscape master Jacobus Pierneef, and many more.

Goodman Gallery

The Goodman Gallery opened its doors to the public in 1966 during an extremely turbulent sociopolitical era in South Africa. The gallery, now with locations in Johannesburg and Cape Town, fosters and promotes the gifts of well-regarded and up-and-coming South African and international artists whose work has something to say about the African experience.

With a knack for spotting budding talent, the gallery rewards its patrons (especially those who subscribe to the mailing list and stay abreast of what’s on) with a variety of showings, which change on a monthly basis.

The Goodman Gallery is smack dab in the middle of Rosebank’s “Art Gallery Row,” which is an informal bunching of galleries, including Goodman, David Krut Projects (a collaborative workshop and gallery) — plus a few more galleries — all lined up along Jan Smuts Avenue, just south of Circa and the Everard Read Gallery.

If you truly love contemporary art and plan on spending time in Joburg, this trendy part of town should be high on your list of places to get to know.