Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Incredible Culture Of Johannesburg

ovember 18, 2011 11:34 pm

Art district: Park life

Circa gallery
Circa: the gallery itself is a work of art
With no coastal charm or spectacular wildlife, Johannesburg is often overlooked by all but the most ambitious travellers.
But South Africa’s largest city is not only the continent’s economic engine, it is also home to Africa’s most important communities of art and culture makers.



The so-called “Parks” – the areas of Parkhurst, Parkview, Parkwood and particularly Parktown North – form an engaging, arts-rich enclave amid the city’s suburban-style sprawl.
This series of leafy neighbourhoods is home to the most important assemblage of traditional and contemporary art galleries in the entire country, if not all of Africa.
Now within walking distance of the new Gautrain station at Rosebank and accented by stylish, independent boutiques and many of the city’s cosiest caf├ęs and restaurants, the “Parks” make an ideal urban pit-stop whether you are staying for a week or a day.
“Much like in Chelsea in New York, the Parks have become a real hub for Johannesburg’s arts and culture, just on a smaller scale,” says Liza Essers, director and owner of the Goodman Gallery, the city’s leading contemporary art dealer. “The area used to be considered the city’s periphery, but it has become a true neighbourhood that’s safe and accessible.”
And the gallery ought to know. A regular presence at global art gatherings, the Goodman represents blue-chip artists from across Africa, ranging from local legends such as William Kentridge and Willem Boshoff, to Algerian-French installation artist Kader Attia and Egyptian-born Ghada Amer, who works with canvas, acrylic and embroidery.
Another Parks-area pillar is the Everard Read gallery, which first opened in central Johannesburg in 1912 and now occupies a postmodern villa alongside the Parks in Rosebank. Although best known for representing the artistic “establishment” – from artist-activist Beezy Bailey, to sculptor and painter Paul Sekete – Everard Read is equally committed to nurturing local up-and-comers.
Mark and Christine Read, the third-generation owners, are also committed to Johannesburg – as evidenced by Circa on Jellico, the gallery’s radically modern sister space which opened in late 2009. It represents a significant investment for the Reads, who suggest that the area’s ascent is only just beginning.
Circa is as much a piece of art as a repository for it. The name refers to the cylindrical shape of the building, which was designed by local architect Pierre Swanepoel to maximise display space from the site’s odd, oval-shaped footprint.
On a smaller scale, is Gallery Momo, which was founded by curator Monna Mokoena in 2003. Set in a renovated glass and wood bungalow from 1913, Gallery Momo was a Parktown North pioneer.
“Gallery Momo was among the first cultural ‘embassies’ to be located in the Parks and we were attracted to the lower-density, yet upwardly mobile and culturally savvy, inhabitants,” says Mokoena. While Johannesburg’s crime remains high, he points out that it has fallen “thanks to increased police intelligence inherited from South Africa’s successful hosting of the 2010 [Football] World Cup.”
Gallery Momo is both modern and dramatic – subtly illuminated to catch passing pedestrian traffic. Inside, visitors can view a range of artists and artistic media – from Andrew Tshabangu’s stark black and white prints, to Mary Sibande’s colour-rich commentaries on post-Apartheid female imagery.
David Krut Projects is an eclectic space, which simultaneously serves as: a full-scale gallery representing young South African talents; a printmaking workshop; and an elegant boutique selling Krut’s in-house fine-arts books and monographs. This is a truly international operation, with outposts in New York and Cape Town, along with a second, books-focused space at Arts on Main.
Just down the road is the Kim Sacks Gallery, which stocks delicate, fine-quality, contemporary African crafts with a focus on handmade pottery pieces.
Set in a former private home, the brightly-hued textiles hail from Africa, the intricately woven wirework from KwaZulu-Natal and her muted, monochromatic pottery pieces from across the country. She represents many artists exclusively and is herself a potter trained at the Danish Design School in Copenhagen.
Also on Jan Smuts Avenue is the “indie” Gallery 2, which represents about 15 emerging visual artists. It first opened nearly two decades ago, and moved to a new home in Parkwood last year.
Besides all these galleries, the Parks have also developed a sophisticated retail and leisure scene equally appealing to both art phobes and fans.
The centre is Parkhurst, which now houses some of Johannesburg’s top restaurants, including La Cucina di Ciro, where chef Ciro Molinaro dishes up the type of inventive, seasonal Italian fare that earned him three Michelin stars when he was cooking in France.
Also tasty is The Attic, which serves bistro-styled comfort classics with an Asian touch amid vintage wooden furniture and black-tiled floors; and Turn ’n Tender, where Joburg’s hipsters and heavies have headed for top-quality steaks for more than three decades.
Follow up all that eating with a stroll along Parkhurst’s retail-rich 4th Avenue, for a look at top global brands, along with innovative local “lifestyle” labels such as Essential Life.
Founded in 2000 by local entrepreneur Adrian Lombard, the Parkhurst flagship store opened in 2009 and now stocks its complete collection of earthy-yet-elegant furniture, wall­paper, fashions, candles and coffees and teas. Everything is well designed, well priced and – like most of that nearby art – proudly made in South Africa.
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