After almost a decade in Braamfontein, the contemporary art gallery Stevenson Johannesburg has moved to a new spot on 7th Avenue in Parktown North. It’s a move that gallery partner Joost Bosland jokingly calls “reverse gentrification”. Its previous spot on Juta Street, diagonally opposite the Wits Art Museum, with proximity to the university, chimed well with the gallery’s edgy, intellectual ethos. “We’ve been thinking for about five years about how to ‘do the north’ without losing our sense of identity and what distinguishes us from our colleagues,” Bosland says.
The move is partly to be closer to the gallery’s market and partly to operate in closer proximity to what’s becoming something of an art precinct. The area around the new Keyes Art Mile and Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank, the Goodman Gallery, and the rest of the art strip in Parkwood, has become central to the city’s art ecosystem. Bosland says that if he could have put an X on a map to mark his ideal location, the gallery’s new spot would have been it. “There is something to be said for being close to our colleagues but still having our own little space,” he says.
It doesn’t hurt that there are good restaurants nearby, and Gallery Momo is just a few doors down. “You can really do the whole gallery circuit quite easily,” Bosland says.
The gallery itself is a lightly renovated, early 20th century housetypical of the area. It has a tin roof, wooden floors, pressed-metal ceilings, and a slate stoep. Gallery Momo’s successful house conversion was an inspiration, as were international precedents such as the Skarstedt and the L&M Arts galleries in New York, and the Thomas Dane Gallery in London. These galleries are also repurposed buildings that deliberately retained aspects of their residential character. Stevenson’s close neighbours, Tonic Design, the team who took on the conversion, made a similar move a few years ago, and sensitively transformed a house into a studio.
Tonic’s Greg Gamble says much of what they did was as non-interventionalist as possible. While they opened up three gallery spaces, it’s still very clearly a house. “It was a very charming little house,” Gamble says, “but very run down.”
The pressed-metal ceilings have been preserved and the interiors painted white with grey floors. “We made a conscious decision to keep the charm,” Gamble says. In the gallery areas, the walls have been “skinned”, as Gamble puts it, with drywall, not only to create sleek “white boxes”, but also to leave the original walls unmolested by nails. “We emphasised the old details,” he says. A private-meeting lounge retains its fireplace, and a staff dining area and kitchen also maintains its domestic character.
Bosland says that having a garden opens up the potential to engage with outdoor sculpture, which has become an important element of Joburg’s art scene. Two beautiful works by Wim Botha greet you near the entrance. Gamble also points out that having the gallery visible to the street, the edge softened with a little strip of greenery, and a parking area, returns something of the original character of Parktown North to the streetscape. It makes the street more public, and friendlier to pedestrians, encouraging a more authentic street life and a livelier sense of place than Joburg’s typically high-walled architecture.
• The gallery was launched with Portia Zvavahera’s solo show Talitha Cumi – it’s on until 12 July. Stevenson Johannesburg’s new address is 46 7th Avenue, Parktown North.
• From the June edition of Wanted 2019.