Destination Guides

Cape Town: A City for Art Collectors to Call Home

In the shadows of Table Mountain, Africa’s stunning southern city has solidified its reputation as a world capital of culture and cool

Once the giant Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art opened on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront in September 2017, it grabbed the attention of the art world globally. Africa’s largest contemporary art museum, the building spans a total of 102,257 square feet (9,500 sq m), and has become one of the world’s influential art institutions. Everything about it is cutting edge, from the reuse of the historic grain silos by London-based architectural practice Heatherwick Studio to its devotion to African artists telling their stories in fresh ways.

Zeitz MOCAA Gallery Cape Town Art
Built into a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, Zeitz MOCAA is the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world. Image: Wianelle Briers. Banner image: Getty

A Creative Hotspot

Cape Town’s footing in the global art scene has been a long time coming, says Emma Vandermerwe, director of one of the city’s older art galleries, Everard Read, and now its newer addition, CIRCA. “It’s one of the reasons I came back to Cape Town in 2008, after working with some of London’s blue-chip art galleries. It felt really dynamic and the galleries, and certainly the commercial market, were of a high standard. I was impressed.”

“Impressed” is often the word international visitors use to describe their first trip to Cape Town. “The restaurants, the artisans, the luxury safaris­—it’s all of an international standing. You can acquire museum-quality art from artists who are represented here in Cape Town, but also in London and New York. When collectors come here, they’re often surprised, and thrilled, with the caliber of artists and art that is available at more affordable prices,” says Vandermerwe.

But really this shouldn’t be a surprise at all. The city has excellent art schools, a vibrant gallery scene, private art institutions, and a concentration of serious collectors. That, combined with its jaw-dropping setting below Table Mountain, miles of unspoiled coast and winelands for suburbs, a warm climate, and large properties available, makes Cape Town an easy choice for art-loving travelers, or those looking to relocate. “It’s an all-round destination for culturally conscious collectors and individuals,’ says Vandermerwe.

Everard Read Art Gallery Cape Town
Everard Read is South Africa’s oldest commercial gallery, and has been a part of the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town since 1996. There are two other outposts in Johannesburg and London. Image: Adam Leitch

Galleries and institutions are finding different spaces to open up in Cape Town all the time. “A very well-known space is the V&A Waterfront, where we’re located,” says Vandermerwe. “Zeitz MOCAA is in walking distance from us. Along the way is the Watershed, a market-style hub of upscale craft and design. Southern Guild, one the leading design forums that exhibits locally and at top design fairs globally, is a stone’s throw from Zeitz MOCAA, and rounds off a very creative hub here.”

The Cape Town lifestyle is enviable from anywhere in the world

A City Buzz

The Central Business District (CBD) is home to another stretch of influential art galleries, including Gallery MOMO and the South African National Gallery. On the first Thursday of every month, arts and culture in the CBD has a late night, with dozens of art galleries and cultural events showcasing the wealth of talent and laid-back lifestyle that the Mother City offers. When First Thursdays launched here, it also served to reinvigorate the Bree Street and Church Street areas for more up-and-coming galleries, according to Vandermerwe.

SMITH Art Gallery Cape Town Rosie Mudge
Working to support lesser-known young artists such as Rosie Mudge—whose ethereal large-scale works are often made from unexpected materials such as glitter glue and nail polish—SMITH gallery is housed in an historic warehouse building on Church Street. Image: courtesy of SMITH

“There are various smaller galleries that are working actively to assist young artists, like SMITH gallery in Church Street, and a little further up, in trendy Kloof Street is Salon Ninety One. They are authentically establishing their own voice.”

At First Thursday, it’s a good idea to start off in Long, Loop, or Bree Street with a drink at any one of the popular bars, before browsing the galleries around the city center, and finally settle in at one of the city’s restaurants, like Liam Tomlin’s buzzy Chefs Warehouse & Canteen, for a relaxed meal of arresting tapas.

An Art Epicenter

Once considered the grittier part of the city’s creative scene, the Woodstock district is home to some of South Africa’s best-known blue-chip galleries, like Stevenson and Goodman. These galleries have represented the likes of William Kentridge and Pieter Hugo, as well as international stars. “There are a number of artists’ studios here too—you’ll need to know someone who can let you in—but give Eastside Studios and Side Street Studios a try.” Vandermerwe also suggests a stop at The Woodstock Exchange to grab some Honest Chocolate from their small artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate shop.

One of three of Chef Liam Tomlin’s dining destinations in Cape Town, Chefs Warehouse & Canteen serves a tapas tasting menu in a convivial setting on Bree Street. Photograph: Claire Gunn

Culture and Cuisine

The city outskirts are booming too, with winemaking, fine dining, and, of course, art. The upscale suburb of Constantia is home to South Africa’s first vineyards, dating to 1685. It’s also home to internationally acclaimed restaurant La Colombe at Silvermist wine estate, where chef proprietor Scot Kirton’s French inflections on local ingredients like seared springbok loin and roasted fig are truly innovative.

Down the road from Constantia, in Steenberg, the Norval Foundation created a new artistic buzz this year. Housing one of the largest private art collections in South Africa, it has become a significant space for fine art in the country and globally. As an aside, the food at the gallery restaurant, Skotnes, headed up by executive chef Phil de Villiers, is almost as spectacular as the art.

Norval Foundation Cape Town Art
Set in stunning grounds peppered with sculpture, the Norval Foundation comprises exhibition rooms, an excellent retail outlet, and a stunning restaurant. Image: Dave Southwood

Where to Hang Your Art

As each neighborhood buzzes a little louder around art and culture, so investors and those looking to relocate or buy a second or third home, take notice. “The Cape Town lifestyle is enviable from anywhere in the world, and the comparable cost of living is affordable. The opportunities here—from stately mansions in Bishopscourt to chic Bantry Bay beach apartments—are incredible,” says Mike Greeff, CEO of Greeff Properties, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the city.

“Many of our clients who are looking for properties in the Waterfront and Green Point areas are looking for a summer home. As such, they want modern, lock-up-and-go apartments that offer privacy and sea, harbor, or mountain views, with easy access to the Waterfront amenities, like the restaurants, shops, and galleries,” he says.

Cape Town Art Goodman Gallery
With spaces in Johannesburg and Cape Town, the Goodman Gallery frequently exhibits internationally at art fairs such as Art Basel. Image: Goodman Gallery Cape Town

“Constantia Upper and nearby Bishopscourt offer 1-2 acre (0.4-0.8 ha) properties with a pool, staff quarters, premium finishes, and manicured gardens. Views are important—out-of-town clients want to overlook vineyards, and see the mountain or the sea. The traditional Cape Dutch architecture is popular with British clients, but contemporary design is an option, too. The high ceilings in so many of these spacious homes offer the perfect backdrop for owners’ art, and it’s not unusual to find a Dylan Lewis sculpture in the large grounds of these homes.”

On the Market

Mountain Views, in Bishopscourt, Cape Town

Property Cape Town Norwich Bishopscourt
Set facing a dramatic mountain vista, this eight-bedroom residence with a pool, Jacuzzi, and tennis courts is situated in Bishopscourt, close to some of the area’s most celebrated wine estates, as well as Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Spectacular Mansionin Bishopscourt, Cape Town

Property Cape Town Salisbury Bishopscourt
This stately mansion property has six reception rooms, five bedrooms, and four baths. In the magnificent park-like grounds there are Grecian-style pergolas, a two-roomed staff apartment, a swimming pool, and expansive, lush green lawns.

Garden Villa in Constantia, Cape Town

Property Cape Town Blommenwerf Constantia
This stunning five-bedroom Mediterranean-style villa features topiary, Cypress trees, fountains, and bougainvillea in the vast gardens, as well as a swimming pool. Inside are wonderful decorative elements; a grand marble staircase at the double-height entrance, chandeliers, and ornate ceiling inlays.