If you’re an art lover in the know, you’ve probably heard about the cutting-edge Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which opened in September 2017 to great acclaim. It’s one of several fascinating stops on this itinerary highlighting South Africa’s dynamic art scene, created by Kate Doty of Geographic Expeditions, and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, with her colleague, art buff and regional expert, Starla Estrada.
In addition to curator-led gallery visits and insightful walking tours—the one in Johannesburg includes inspiring street murals, installations, and graffiti—each of the featured luxurious hotels has its own phenomenal private collection. From the Saxon, Hotel, Villas and Spa’s West and Central African pieces to the collection of Mateya Safari Lodge, which features both traditional and contemporary works inspired by the savannah, you’ll have rare inside access to artwork, artists, and art connoisseurs. Starla and Kate can also time your trip to coincide with one of Cape Town’s or Johannesburg’s art festivals.
Itinerary / 9 DAYS
DAY 1Arrive in Johannesburg
Make sure to see the sketches by Dean Simon of one of the Saxon’s most famous guests, Nelson Mandela, who stayed here while writing his autobiography. Other highlights of the collection include Moroccan masks, Ghanaian fertility dolls, and works by Hilton Edwards, Hannes Harss, Fiona Rowett, and Sandile Zulu.
You’ll have the rest of the afternoon to explore the hotel and relax, perhaps poolside or with a visit to the award-winning spa.
DAY 2Street Art
At the end of your tour, you’ll return to your hotel for the evening, though Kate’s team can provide suggestions if you prefer to stay out and experience another Johannesburg art form: its lively jazz scene.
DAY 3Johannesburg’s Galleries
Adjacent to Everard Read, CIRCA is a small contemporary gallery with an exterior that’s as striking as the artwork it houses. Designed by architect Pierre Swanepoel of StudioMAS, the elliptical structure with an aluminum fin façade has already become a landmark in Rosebank. Despite its intimate size, CIRCA exhibits an impressive collection of sculptures, installation pieces, and paintings from celebrated and up-and-coming artists such as Viktor Shroeder, Benjamin Cobb, and Audrey Phillips.
Next, you’ll continue on to Gallery MOMO, a 10-minute walk from CIRCA. Founded by black gallerist Monna Mokoena in 2002, it has been a leader in bringing attention to many of Africa’s most interesting new artists, including sculptor Dillon Marsh, photographer George Hallett, and painter Kimathi Donkor.
Depending on your particular interests, Kate can arrange for visits to other galleries as well as meetings with private collectors for more insights.
DAY 4Travel to Madikwe Game Reserve
Beyond the lodge, the Madikwe Game Reserve extends for some 290 square miles. Near the Botswana border, it is a masterpiece in its own way. The area where the reserve is located had once been farmland, before the South African government decided it was better suited to supporting wildlife. Since it was declared a reserve, elephants, Cape buffalo, black and white rhinos, and a number of predators—including lions, cheetahs, and hyenas—have all been successfully reintroduced. The reserve is also malaria free, a big plus for many travelers.
DAYS 5 AND 6Madikwe Game Reserve
Between game drives, each of the lodge’s suites has its own infinity-edge plunge pool, as well as deep soaking tubs positioned so they have views of the savannah surrounding the lodge which sits atop a rocky outcrop. The library is another relaxing retreat, filled with books both about African art and the flora and fauna of this part of South Africa, on the edges of the Kalahari Desert. All meals are included and served in a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a watering hole where animals frequently gather. The lodge also has an 8,000-bottle cellar of wines, both South African and international selections.
DAY 7Travel to Cape Town
In the afternoon, your guide will take you to the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, an avid contemporary African art collector and former Puma CEO. Set in a refurbished silo complex, the museum is ambitious inside and out, generating excitement among art enthusiasts worldwide well in advance of its September 2017 grand opening. The 100,000-square-foot space houses 80 galleries with permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as a Centre for Photography that showcases works by Roger Ballen. On an immersive curator-led tour, you’ll discover why MOCAA is emerging as one of the most influential contemporary art museums in the world and creating a new center of gravity within South Africa’s art scene.
In the evening you’ll return to the Ellerman House for dinner in the wine cellar with the hotel’s art curator, Margaret Slabbert.
DAY 8Cape Town’s Gallery Scene
On a guided tour of the Woodstock neighborhood with Juma Mkwela, you’ll learn how street art has played a major role in the area’s transformation from a neglected warehouse district to a buzzing nexus of art and cuisine. As you walk through its alleys and streets, Juma shares his in-depth knowledge, including insight into the social commentary and transformative messages behind the art.
You may also want to schedule your visit to experience one of the city’s annual art events. Ellerman House’s Art Angels is an annual charity auction and party that benefits The Click Foundation’s education initiatives and includes a limited auction of fine art pieces donated by some of South Africa’s leading artists. In February (February 16 to 18, 2018), the Cape Town Art Fair brings in some of the best contemporary art, artists, curators, and galleries from Africa and beyond, with VIP art events throughout the month.