With its narrow streets, quaint cottages and soaring oak trees, Newlands Village seems to have come straight out of a brochure for a suburb in North West London. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting for a fine-art gallery, and it’s here that you’ll find The Barnard Gallery. It’s across the road from the Kildare Centre and its boutique stores (Lulu Tan Tan, Hush Clothing, Tanya Wheeler and Rosenwerth) and diagonally opposite Melissa’s, so the ‘ladies who lunch’ will have a fine time getting their art fix.
‘I believe the exhibitions we will be holding will encourage more people to come to the area,’ says owner Christiaan Barnard.
The Barnard Gallery is not Chris’s first foray into the arts. The son of famous heart surgeon Dr Chris Barnard and mom Barbara, Christiaan was raised in a home filled with magnificent artworks. ‘My mother worked for Sotheby’s and my grandfather was a big collector, so art was a part of our world.’
Chris is quick to admit that his personal collection is still a work in progress: ‘I have some beautiful pieces, but I definitely need to add more. I recently renovated my home, so there are lots of empty walls that need filling!’ He describes the décor in his home as ‘safari lodgy’ and that the works he owns tend to have more of a rough African texture: ‘Peter Beard and Dylan Lewis are my style.’
In his younger years, Chris studied graphic design at the A A A college in Cape Town, and then studied interior design through correspondence. He’s dabbled in various aspects of design for the past 11 years, starting off in residential interior design before turning his hand to the commercial side of the business. ‘I tired of the residential side,’ he explains. ‘You work so hard, yet few people get to appreciate what you’ve done. And clients can be so fickle. It all got a bit tedious.’
So Chris entered the property market, where he could buy land,
develop it and carry out the commercial design work himself.
Today he owns several prime properties in Cape Town, including the Newlands building that houses the new art gallery.
His talent for interior design can be seen at the popular Mouille Point restaurant Pepénero, which is run by renowned restaurateur Paul Kovensky. Chris and Paul are also part-owners of Paranga restaurant in Camps Bay.
And it’s not only these businesses to which he’s applied his skills. In 1999 Chris ran an art gallery in Napier Street in trendy De Waterkant, and he currently owns the upmarket décor store, Pa Kua at the V & A Waterfront, which showcases a mix of South African and international wares.
The young entrepreneur describes his decision to open The Barnard Gallery as a strategic one: ‘I realised that many art galleries have closed or been sold recently, and it made me think it was a good time to enter the market – that there was a real need for a new gallery, because the industry is in turmoil.’ Regardless of these troubles, there has still been considerable investment in South African art recently, and Chris believes it’s because people see art as a reliable investment.
Chris’s other reason for opening the gallery is more sentimental: ‘Too many people are looking for financial reward from art. I’m really doing this out of passion! My dream is to sell art that I love,’ he says. ‘I know that this might eventually become a problem; art is so much in the eye of the beholder, so I might have to draw the line somewhere.’
The Barnard Gallery is a large, airy, double-volume space, essential for maximising the artwork’s appeal. It’s modern and sparse, with a spiral staircase in the centre leading upstairs to Chris’s business offices.
Chris is excited about his future line-up of artists. May saw the launch of a joint exhibition by Willie Bester, Rachelle Bomberg, Robert Slingsby, Norman Catherine, Gail Catlin and Uwe Pfaff. This will be followed by solo exhibitions by Rachelle Bomberg, Robert Slingsby and Willie Bester. Previous exhibitions showcased the works of Philip Briel and Paul du Toit. ‘All the artists we have are fantastic, and their reaction to the gallery has been so positive.’
Chris is a true Capetonian. He admits he’s considered leaving South Africa, though he can’t see himself making the move: ‘My brother, an investment banker, now lives in Zurich, which he loves, and although I visit him often, it isn’t for me. I haven’t found anywhere else in the world that suits me as much as Cape Town. Really, where else is there to live?’
In his downtime, Chris loves nothing better than being outdoors, preferably in False Bay on his surfboard if the waves are good. Otherwise he enjoys jogging in the wild or mountain climbing. ‘I also play a bit of guitar!’ he confides laughingly.
This year is proving a busy one for Chris. In addition to lining up artists for The Barnard Gallery, he’s getting married in October. The Barnard Gallery, +27 (0)21 671 1553