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Oliewenhuis – where art meets nature

Oliewenhuis Art Museum warrants its esteemed position as the official opening post on my blog. Not because this was once the residence of the Governor General and later of the State Presidents of South Africa whenever they visited Bloemfontein, but rather because it’s my favourite place in the city. It’s the one place I visit every time I’m home. I love how it combines the freedom of open spaces with the freedom of expression through art. It also holds a special place in my live music-loving heart because it was here that I attended the first Granaat Rock Festival during my third year at varsity in 2001 (this music fest took place more than once in Oliewenhuis’ humungous gardens and included acts by the likes of Anton Goosen, Koos Kombuis, Brasse Vannie Kaap, Wonderboom and Perez).

Oliewenhuis has been an art museum since 1989. It houses a permanent art collection with works by the likes of Thomas Baines, Norman Catherine, Pierneef and William Kentridge, as well as exciting temporary exhibitions. Today was the start of a new exhibition entitled Yebo Yes. It’s an interesting photo exhibition of the twin cities Ghent (in Belgium) and Mangaung (greater Bloemfontein), where Jonas Posman, a Ghent-based photographer, has captured images of Mangaung, while Oliver Dowdle, a recent photography graduate from Bloemfontein’s Planet Pixel, has photographed Ghent. It’s super interesting to see the two cities through they eyes of the visiting photographer, especially when you see the comparisons of public transport – Ghent’s modern buses and bicyles; Mangaung’s horses, overloaded bakkies and minibus taxis. The exhibition shows how, at the heart of it all, people are people, wherever they may live. Check out this pic and see if you can tell which of the two cities each person is from. The answers are below the picture. Don’t cheat!

Images by Oliver Dowdle and Jonas Posman

 Ghent    Ghent    Mangaung    Mangaung

Mangaung   Mangaung   Mangaung   Ghent

Ghent       Ghent       Mangaung      Ghent

Mangaung   Mangaung   Ghent   Mangaung

After checking out the art, it’s always wonderful to step out from the museum’s back door into the gorgeous back garden, also filled with art sculptures and the most creative carousel for kids – with each animal ride made by a different South African artist. I love watching kids run around this garden while their parents enjoy a coffee and one of the extravagant cakes (I recommend the lemon meringue – the meringue is really voluptuous!) at The Terrace, which is currently running a winter special on gluwein (R15), as well as beef and vegetable soup (R25). All the breakfasts are under R50, and there’s a very diverse lunchtime menu. I’ve seen The Terrace decorated for a wedding before, and it’s really a special setting for any function. Another reception and art venue on the grounds is The Reservoir, and some couples even choose to exchange their vows on the beautiful back garden lawns before having her celebration in the underground setting. Many people will tell you that Oliewenhuis is their dream wedding venue, and you can see why.

Carol Kuhn's 'Head Rest' stands in the back garden opposite The Terrace.

Wilma Cruise's 'Sheep May Safely Graze: the return of the Bultfontein sheep' in the back garden.

The 'Family Chairs' by Leepo Masukela in the front garden are part of the Cement and Mosaic Project that aims to make art functional and fun for people of all ages.

From the back garden, you can take easy 'hikes' into the veld behind Oliewenhuis.

To prove to you that I’m not the only one who’s totally in love with Oliewenhuis, I chatted to a group of (mostly) students who were chilling on the front lawns, jamming their instruments while having a smoke and drinking wine out of a bottle. It’s their usual hangout – the place where they get together to talk about ‘what the heck happened last night?!’ and to plan the next big bender. They have a group on Facebook where they arrange their Oliewenhuis outing meeting time. They say it’s an open invitation, so look out for them next time you’re in the vicinity. They’re seriously cool and down-to-earth (and extremely bilingual), and you can tell they’d be fun to hang out with for more than a quick little Q&A.

The best way to spend a chilly winter afternoon with friends.


Dewald Bux van der Westhuizen: ‘I love coming here because we get to play music and do our thing without anyone bothering us. It’s great to have all this grass, the trees and the space. We’ll often know other groups of people hanging out here, so we end up forming one big group.’


Elani Jacobs: ‘In December, we used to come here everyday, but then classes started, and now winter is here, but we used to come from morning till evening!’


Gerhard van den Heever: ‘I came here for the first time in Matric, in 2006 when I started driving. We go into the museum to check out the art every second or third time that we come here. There’s always something different in there, and I really enjoy the abstract exhibitions.’


Uhann Yssel: ‘This is the best place to recover from a hangover because it’s so relaxing. All the open space makes it like our own Central Park. I love it! It’s always fun.’


Rico Ross: ‘Oliewenhuis is all about a gathering of friends – a place where good people come together.’

Nuff said!

Good to know

The art museum is open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm; Sat & public holidays 10am-5pm; Sun 1pm-5pm

The Terrace is open Tues-Sat 9am-5pm; Sun & public holidays 10am-5pm

To enquire about weddings and functions, contact Jaydee on 051-4486834 or email

Future exhibitions

Willie Bester, Recent Works

Opening 10 June 2011

Cecil Skotnes, The Epic of Everlasting

22 July – 1 August


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