Southern Guild, a Cape Town–based gallery known for nurturing superstars like Zanele Muholi, will open an outpost in the Melrose Hill section of Hollywood, steps from Sargent’s Daughters, James Fuentes, and David Zwirner, in 2024. The announcement comes a week after another Cape Town stalwart, Goodman Gallery, revealed plans for a New York space.
The expansion has been 16 years in the making, Southern Guild’s cofounders, the artist-turned-gallerists Trevyn and Julian McGowan, told ARTnews via Zoom.
“LA feels very aligned with South Africa, even sort of a mash up of Johannesburg and Cape Town,” Trevyn said. “[LA] was the first choice from us without really thinking about it because of its scale, its climate, and the kind of interaction we’ve been having with clients we were working with from the West Coast.”
At the time of the interview, the pair were in Los Angeles overseeing the construction of the new space, while also preparing for Southern Gallery’s debut at the Armory Show in New York. Neither McGowan seemed particularly daunted by the workload. Under their direction, Evan Raabe Architecture—the studio behind Hauser & Wirth’s LA branch and Christie’s Beverly Hills—is transforming a disused laundromat at 474 N Western Avenue into a 5,000-square-foot gallery.
It comprises three large-scale exhibition rooms, and while each room may host separate exhibitions, there’s no difference in size or designation. The layout mirrors the cofounders’ approach to dealing: no hierarchy within their wares, whether they be painting, ceramic, performance, or sconce.
“The materiality is very different, and the practices are very different,” Trevyn said. “But there is this common theme of where do I come from? What is my meaning in my place today? How do I instill my knowledge, honor the past, and move forward into the future?”
“We’ve always been a bit disruptive,” Julian added. According to them, when Southern Guild first applied to Design Miami, the fair’s adjudicators didn’t even know how to categorize their presentation. (They went on to win best booth of the year.)
Southern Guild opened in 2008 as the one of the few commercial spaces in South Africa dedicated to “collectible” craft and homeware made by artists from Africa, most of whom were not well-known beyond the continent. That was a shame, they said, because the work was unlike anything else on the international market—tactile and sculptural but also functional, with a form and feeling inextricable from the art traditions of South Africa, as well as its neighbors, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.
At the time, Cape Town was only 14 years post-apartheid. Art that celebrated the social idiosyncrasies suppressed during its rule was flourishing. Southern Guild wanted collectors, critics, and curators around the world to see its worth without having to travel to South Africa.
“We have a residency program in Cape Town, and we’d like to have one in LA as well, with LA artists coming here and Cape Town artists going to California,” Julian said. “We feel that this narrative of cultural exchange is our entryway into the US and specifically into in California. Through that, we believe that we will find our audience.”
Today, Southern Guild represents an eclectic group, in terms of age, medium, and materially. Some, like Muholi, have practices that more easily match what Western audiences may expect in a biennial or a museum show; others, like the arborist Adam Birch, who carves functional sculptures from felled indigenous trees, happily occupy the middle ground.
For the Armory Show, which opens on September 8, they’re bringing some of the roster’s standouts, including Zizipho Poswa, who hails from Mthatha, a small town in Eastern Cape, and makes monumental, hand-coiled sculptures indebted to her Xhosa heritage. She will present new pieces from her “Umthwalo” series (meaning “load”), which honor African womanhood. The works are fittingly full of contradictions; exuberant and introspective, delicate appearing but capable of supporting great weights. She’s taken part in group shows around the world, notably a Kehinde Wiley–curated exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch’s LA outpost, and her work is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Also headed for New York are the mixed media paintings of rising star Manyaku Mashilo, from Limpopo, South Africa. In what Mashilo calls “celestial cartography,” Black deities drift through stardust. At first glance, her work couldn’t be more different than Poswa’s, but they’re after the same thing: advice from the past on how to answer modern questions of gender and spirituality, belonging and dislocation.
“This isn’t about just stimulating visually. It’s about changing how someone feels by the time they leave the booth,” Trevyn said. “Our job is to convey these stories and convey the depth of their importance.”