fComing back from Cape Town I found myself next to a woman whose sweatshirt had made me smile at the airport. “Buy art from living artists. The dead don’t need the money.”
The Acton-based arts curator had been to the Cape making films about artists and, like me, had been overwhelmed by the talent. At the moment, she agreed, the city is one of the trendiest arts destinations in the world.
Cape Town has always been a center of creativity. During apartheid, it was the African capital where one could enjoy formal European art. Three decades after Mandela’s release, it has become a thriving cultural center where contemporary art from across the continent can be discovered.
The African Art Market booming – not just in Africa but around the world, according to Mary Corrigall, author of The South African Art Market. In the last decade, she says, the number of international platforms selling African art, from auctions to websites, has doubled to nearly 130. to see the works of more than 300 artists from Angola to Zimbabwe. And prices have skyrocketed; A Marlene Dumas piece sold for £3.2million at Sotheby’s London, making her one of the most expensive living artists.
Its sudden popularity explains why creativity is everywhere on the Cape. In the touristy waterfront, the huge industrial-style watershed hangar is now lined with craft stalls. In the trendy Salt River neighborhood, more than 130 colorful murals adorn the walls, which can be viewed on walking tours organized by Culture Connect (cultureconnectsa.com). Cape Concierge Lew Rood (lewrood.com) can arrange tours into the Winelands to see private collections, from vintage cars at the Franschhoek Motor Museum (fmm.co.za) to historical art at La Motte Museum (la-motte . com) to the contemporary artworks of Laurence Graff (delaire.co.za). And there are plenty of galleries, from commercial ones to art institutions like Zeitz Mocaa (zeitz mocaa.museum) and the Norval Foundation (norvalfoundation.org).
For those interested in full immersion, two organizations have created bespoke experiences where art lovers can not only see pieces and meet artists, gallery owners and auctioneers, but also stay in art-filled homes. One of these is the Art House Collection, co-founded by Elana Brundyn, one of South Africa’s leading contemporary art experts. Having owned a gallery and then helped direct the Zeitz Mocaa and Norval Foundation, the friendly African has helped launch countless artistic careers. In November, she teamed up with journalist Michelle Snaddon to open the country’s first rental collection of major works of art, and each one is different.
“We wanted to bring collector houses together that have their own character,” she tells me. “Some owners may be architects or magazine editors, others chefs or gardeners.”
Heaven on Fourth, an Art House Collection property
GUY LERNER/ART HOUSE COLLECTION
The cozy white, Shaker-style clamshell, Heaven on Fourth, where I spent my last night, for example, is a haven for its bohemian owners’ quirky objects: giant rainbow-hued modern portraits and ceramic shelves alongside patchwork tapestries and throw pillows Shell inlaid chests. Sitting under a cheerfully striped awning and watching the waves roll onto Fourth Beach below was bliss.
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I spent another night at the Hope House, a salmon-colored two-story 1920s mansion furnished with understated Scandinavian furniture and antiques, the high-ceilinged rooms were adorned with artwork from both ends of the world: a pair of Harland Millers and a Grayson Perry alongside works by South African art icons Deborah Bell and Fred Schimmel. With balconies off every bedroom, it felt like the ultimate adult abode, sipping local sparkling wine while admiring the reflection of the golden sunset on Table Mountain.
Then there was the Balinese-inspired Maison Noir, one of three houses on the discreet seven-acre Hout Bay estate below Table Mountain, surrounded by woodland and fynbos gardens. Designed to resemble a village of individual homes linked by a curving gallery adorned with photographs, paintings and sculptures by some of the continent’s biggest names and decorated by local design guru Trevyn McGowan, this is an elegant retreat . With its own wellness manager, it was a relaxing place to practice yoga in pretty gardens, be hypnotized with a sound therapy session, and try a Rasul treatment in the small spa. As the American owner lives next door, there’s a chef and staff on site, or he can stock the fridge with farm produce and organize transport to restaurants like Chefs Warehouse in Tintswalo Atlantic, where the flower-studded food is as spectacular as the sea view .
The beauty of staying in private homes, I soon discovered, is that you can pretty much do whatever you want, when you want, especially with the Art House Collection as your concierge. Some guests, says Snaddon, want “the full program – a helicopter flight around Cape Town, drivers to take them on a wine tour, a yacht, private chefs and a jazz trio over dinner”. Others, like me, just want a list of great bars and restaurants, delis and farm shops and then feel free to enjoy Cape Town like a local.
Guests can book a day at Brundyn themselves, which is a bit like having the Tate Modern curator take you around London. My day with her began at the charismatic Baylon Sandri’s Smac Gallery, where I met Bonolo Kavula, whose spare wall hangings of die-cut circles in Shweshwe fabric won her this year’s Norval Sovereign African Art Prize. Sandri has been on the market since the 1990s. “I’m interested in the fact that artists are great predictors of the future,” he said over breakfast. “There is always a boom in an economy where art thrives.”
After a quick look at Smac’s inspirational back catalogue, Brundyn drove me to the private collection of Martin Epstein, whose associates are privileged to be part of his Art Gazette offices. Here, Epstein explained his latest venture with curator Morné Visagie, in which he bought directly from artists and sold their works online. “It’s great for artists because they’re selling pieces that may never have been exhibited before,” he explained. “And it’s great for the public – they can view our collection of about 13,000 works online and then buy them.”
After lunch at rustic, laid-back Between Us (where Brundyn most recently hosted Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri), we headed to a home owned by Royal Portfolio. Though the brand, founded by the Biden family of art collectors, includes Cape properties like the Silo and La Residence, some of its hotel guests — who regularly include Elton John — prefer the privacy of a home. As such, the portfolio has recently been expanded to include four exceptional rentals, each overseen by the Silos’ staff, including art lover Irene BoaVentura, who can expertly guide guests through the hotel’s African collection – or, if they wish, to the Winelands or to galleries from Stevenson and Blank Projects to Everard Read and Goodman.
The brutalist, Bond-style Villa 196 booked for me was the perfect party venue for a Brundyn-arranged artist-curator get-together. Perched on a bluff in elegant Bantry Bay overlooking the Atlantic, the five-story mansion, with its soaring concrete floors and sharp furniture, was soon filled with Cape Town’s coolest creators enjoying freshly made sushi and keeping me updated on the arts scene. In a few hours I had met the new curator of the Liverpool Biennale 2023, Khanyisile Mbongwa; the multidisciplinary artist Sethembile Msezane, who was doing a live art performance when the statue of Cecil Rhodes was torn down; dr Portia Malatjie, Associate Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art; jewelry designer Githan Coopoo and his partner, graphic artist Shakil Solanki.
That night I lay wrapped in fine linens gazing at the starlight reflecting off the ocean, and I realized that although I’d worked in galleries, studied art, and watched the art market for years, I had done more in the past week had learned about African art than in the rest of my adult life. My house envy has increased considerably – but my little black book of African artists is damn good now.
Three art hotels on the Cape
1. Fynbos family home, Babylonstoren
Ten years after the opening of their glorious cottage garden hotel Babylonstoren, Karen Roos and Koos Bekker opened six new cottages and a private house in the midst of wild mountain scrub. The home is particularly pretty with its five bedrooms arranged around a courtyard and pool, decorated in Roos’ serene style with white-striped beams and antiques alongside Patricia Urquiola furniture and beautiful botanical art. Hiking trails, a fishing lake and a pool bar are nearby. The main hotel’s spa, restaurants and shops are a short golf buggy ride away.
details One night self catering for ten people from £3,469 (babylonstoren.com)
2. The Silo, Cape Town
Built over the Thomas Heatherwick-designed Zeitz Mocaa Museum, this family-run hotel houses one of the city’s finest private collections of contemporary African art, displayed on walls from the car park to the penthouse. The rooms — with rich velvets and silks, crystal, and lacquered furniture — are flooded with light through the iconic bulbous windows, some overlooking the sea. Its staff are equally impressive, from efficient concierges to smiling bartenders serving flavorful biltong and fine wines on the rooftop. The art tour is worth it just to see the treasure-filled penthouse.
details B&B doubles from £762 (theroyalportfolio.com)
3. Ellerman House, Cape Town
This magnificent 1906 Edwardian mansion is an institution, not only for the unparalleled hospitality it offers guests in its 13 rooms and two villas (which have hosted presidents and pop stars), but also for its art. Ellerman’s owner has amassed more than 560 treasures spanning over two centuries, from priceless oil paintings by Pierneef and prints by William Kentridge to contemporary works by Vusi Khumalo, which hang around the house and in the gallery. The hotel is open to guests only, but it’s worth checking in to see the art.
details Double B&B from £630 including drinks and art tour (ellerman.co.za)
Lisa Grainger has been a guest of Art House Collection, In Residence Villas and Royal Portfolio, which have homes from £205 to £5,000 a night self-catering, and a day tour with Elana Brundyn from £1,000 (arthouse-collection.com; residence .villas and theroyalportfolio.com). Seven nights self-catering studio in Castle Street and three nights in a fynbos cottage in Babylonstoren, including art and wine tour, from £2,962 per person (timbuktu travel.com). Flight to Cape Town
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