As I write this Joburg has largely, and mercifully, emptied out for the holidays. Many have headed for the Cape, despite dedicated firefighters there battling widespread and persistent fires, especially a wildfire around picturesque Simon’s Town.
In the fervent hope that casualties and damage can be limited, and considering that the holiday exodus to the Cape coast is unstoppable, what should art lovers be looking out for over the holidays?
There is a cornucopia of delights at the various galleries and museums in and around Cape Town this December and January, in the run-up to what should be an amazing art week in the city coinciding with the international Investec Cape Town Art Fair in February.
Though not intended as a comprehensive gallery guide, here’s a rundown of some exhibitions that are worth your time during the holidays.
Kentridge at Goodman
Goodman Gallery in Greenpoint, perhaps unsurprisingly, goes with South Africa’s most famous living artist and national treasure, William Kentridge. His new exhibition, What Have They Done with All the Air? comprises new drawings and sculptures related to his new theatre production in the making, titled The Great Yes, the Great No, which first flighted in “making-of” type workshops in Joburg earlier in 2023. The production is premised on a partly fictional journey of a ship from Marseille to Martinique, containing passengers escaping Vichy France in 1941. Among the passengers are surrealist André Breton, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, the communist novelist Victor Serge, and the author Anna Seghers.
The captain of the boat is Charon, the ferryman of the dead, who calls other characters onto the deck — Aimé Césaire, The Nardal sisters, who with the Césaires and Senghor had founded the anticolonial Négritude movement in Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s. Frantz Fanon joins the group along with Trotsky, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. While the boat journey itself was real, the shifting and fantasy cast of characters and Kentridge’s unique mise-en-scene critiques and dramatises the interaction of shifting and catastrophic geopolitics, avant-garde art movements and postcolonial liberation thinking and activism. Classic Kentridge in other words. Don’t miss!
blank projects debuts Dineo Bopape
blank in Woodstock has Dineo Seshee Bopape’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, titled Master Harmoniser (Ile aya, moya, la, ndokh). The subtitle translates as words for the four elements in various Sub-Saharan African languages. The show comprises two major installations conceived between 2016 and 2021, and marks this significant multimedia artist’s first showing in Cape Town in nearly a decade. Her in-gallery installations are carefully selected and measured quantities of soil, ash, charcoal, and other living substances, materials which speak, for the artist, to collective acts of anticolonial resistance, the distilled histories of which are etched on accompanying wooden plaques. The memorialising aspect of the installations is deepened by audio recordings played from portable record players and the sounds of various water bodies surrounding the African coastline. These are juxtaposed with the birdcalls of the Quetzal from South- and Central America, drawing on this sacred bird’s symbolisation of freedom due to its inability to survive in captivity to meditate on a collective African response to colonialism and its legacies.
Finally, Stevenson Gallery, close to blank projects in trendy Woodstock, presents what everyone secretly loves but daren’t admit to — a Best Of end-of-year collection! This major gallery in the SA art landscape has more reason than most, however — it’s its 20th birthday, and the gallery is showing The Artist List, a group exhibition comprising single works by each of its represented artists.
And the roster is quite something — Stevenson has had more than 450 exhibitions, more than 150 publications and almost as many art fairs in its 20 years, and this show of work by 36 artists — some of whom have been with the gallery for decades, and others for months — reflects the “flux, multiplicity and wonder that characterise the gallery today”.
As founder Michael Stevenson reflects, “A gallery exists in a nebulous space between impulses, emotions, imagination and concepts, and simultaneously all within a transactional world. So, when daily life sometimes feels within the realm of magical realism, we are constantly humbled and grateful that we can sustain a commitment to the idealism of contemporary art, and most importantly, artists, in South Africa and beyond.”
With globally significant artists on show such as Pieter Hugo, Penny Siopis, Moshekwa Langa and Robin Rhode, and local luminaries such as Dada Khanyisa, Serge Alain Nitegeka and many others, this is one you will want to see, and prove him right.
All exhibitions on show until mid-January 2024. Contact galleries for details.