Shows & Exhibitions

New Analysis Reveals That the Famed ‘Ugly Duchess’ Renaissance Painting May Not Depict a Woman After All

A new exhibition at the National Gallery in London is taking another look at Flemish artist Quinten Massys’s mystifying 1513 painting An Old Woman, popularly known as The Ugly Duchess.

According to a statement in the exhibition catalogue, the figure in the 16th century work “challenges every traditional canon of beauty.” It describes “an elderly woman with lively eyes set deep in their sockets, a snub nose, wide nostrils, pimply skin, a hairy mole, bulging forehead, and a prominent square chin.”

But not everyone agrees. In “The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance” (on view from March 16 through June 11), curator Emma Capron advocates for a different read of the enigmatic work. The leading expert in Renaissance art is making the case that the old woman is not a woman at all.

“She is most likely a he, a cross-dresser as a play on gender,” Capron told The Guardian. “We know that Massys was very interested in carnivals, where men would impersonate women.” Indeed, notes the statement in the catalogue, a festival dance known as the moresca—in which a sought-after young woman would “often be played by a cross-dressed man”—was popular in Northern Europe at the time.

Francesco Melzi, after Leonardo, ‘The bust of a grotesque old woman’ (1510-20). Red chalk on paper. The Royal Collection / HM King Charles III Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023. Courtesy of the National Gallery.

Francesco Melzi, after Leonardo, The Bust of a Grotesque Old Woman (1510-20). The Royal Collection / HM King Charles III Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

The work has hung in the National Gallery for more than 80 years, where it is one of the museum’s “best-known faces.” Informally, it is referred to as The Ugly Duchess as it served as the inspiration for Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations of the mercurial duchess in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the 1865 children’s classic.

Over the years, medical experts have contended that the subject suffered from Paget’s disease, in which bones weaken and eventually become disfigured. But Capron takes a different view. “It’s not Paget’s,” she said, “nor any of the other suggestions like dwarfism or elephantiasis.” Rather, “[Massys’s] images, sometimes grotesque, sometimes simply fanciful and satirical, are partly metaphors for the social disorder of the time,” explained Capron. He is also “just having fun.”

Furthermore, the exhibition claims that a drawing attributed to Leonardo da Vinci’s lead assistant Francesco Melzi, called The Bust of a Grotesque Old Woman, was the basis of Massys’s An Old Woman. Melzi’s image, on loan from the Royal Collection, is thought to be a copy of a lost original by Da Vinci’s own hand. Familiar with the exaggerated physiognomic types popularized by Da Vinci, Massys adapted the woman’s visage from one of the Italian master’s own caricatures.

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Leonardo da Vinci, A Satire on Aged Lovers (ca. 1490). The Royal Collection / HM King Charles III Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

There is another piece to the puzzle. An Old Woman is one of a pair of paintings by Massys; the companion piece is An Old Man. They are reunited in the exhibition. However, the woman is on the left, whereas in most Renaissance paintings their positions would have been reversed. The woman is also holding a rosebud—a flower with sexual connotations—as a token of her love. Here again the roles are reversed. The gesture went unrequited as the man has his hand raised, seemingly rejecting the romance she is offering.

It “may be another clue that An Old Woman is a man in woman’s clothing,” noted Capron.


More Trending Stories:

New York’s ‘Hot Dog King’ Has Held Court Outside the Met Museum for Years. Now Fans Are Rallying to Stop the City From Ejecting Him

In His Upstate New York Studio, Stefan Bondell Paints Day and Night, Fueled by Hudson River Light and Copious Amounts of Sugar

We Spoke to the ‘Anguished’ Barcelona Residents Fighting to Prevent the Completion of Gaudí’s Famed Sagrada Familia

Kenny Schachter Pays a Mind-Bending Visit to Beeple’s New High-Tech Art Compound (Getting in Plenty of Trouble Along the Way)

Art Industry News: The Centre Pompidou Has Sealed the Deal on Its New Museum in Saudi Arabia + Other Stories

Hito Steyerl on Why NFTs and A.I. Image Generators Are Really Just ‘Onboarding Tools’ for Tech Conglomerates

Was Roy Lichtenstein an Appropriation Artist or Plagiarist? A New Documentary Probes the Ethics of His Multimillion-Dollar Comic Art Empire

The Dealer Who Sold the World’s Most Expensive Coin Has Been Arrested for Falsifying the $4.2 Million Artifact’s Provenance

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

The Largest Touring Immersive Art Experience Is Bringing 50 Burning Man Style Sculptures to Las Vegas Before It Hits the Road

Forget animated light projections. Transfix, the latest in immersive art experiences, will bring 50 interactive, kinetic, illuminated artworks—including pyrotechnics—to Las Vegas, in the first stop of a planned tour that will bring monumental, festival-style works to cities across the U.S.

The project is the brainchild of Michael Blatter and Tom Stinchfield of New York marketing agency Mirrorball. They originally conceived of the idea during the pandemic as a free, COVID-friendly event staged in Brooklyn Bridge Park that would support artists who normally made work for large-scale festivals like the Burning Man gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

“These things shouldn’t be gathering dust in a warehouse—they should be out on the road, they should be installed somewhere where people can enjoy them and be as inspired by them as we are,” Stinchfield told Midnight Publishing Group News.

“Most of the artists who make these big pieces for these events are only doing it out of passion, which is really beautiful. But afterward, it’s often out of their pocket to bring it back to wherever they may live, and store it in a warehouse or their studio, and they end up losing money,” he added. “It’s a very niche market to to sell a piece of art that’s five stories tall!”

Stinchfield and Blatter actually met years ago through a mutual friend who suggested Stinchfield might benefit creatively from accompanying Blatter on one of his annual trips to Burning Man.

“Michael said, ‘I’m not gonna take some random person to Burning Man.’ We had lunch, and about a week later we were sharing an RV in the desert,” Stinchfield recalled.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park project to showcase the kind of art they encountered there never came to fruition. But it did become the basis of the business plan for Transfix, which the duo likens to a high-production value rock tour for experiential art.

They hope that Transfix will help create a broader audience for the ambitious, large-scale works created for Burning Man and other similar events. (Only half of the art was originally created for the Nevada gathering.)

Christopher Bauder & KiNK, <em>AXION</em>. Photo by Ralph Larmann, courtesy of the artist and Transfix.

Christopher Bauder & KiNK, AXION. Photo by Ralph Larmann, courtesy of the artist and Transfix.

“This is art that was never created within the existing museum and gallery infrastructure,” Blatter told Midnight Publishing Group News. “This art is gigantic, it’s illuminated, some of it’s fire-breathing—it’s certainly not traditional museum-style art.”

Transfix aims to create a new source of income for this kind of work by paying participating artists a rental fee for their artworks.

“We can give artists predictable income, and free up space in their studios while giving these pieces a place to be seen and recognized by the masses,” Stinchfield said, noting that many of the artists they approached were so eager to stop having to store these works that they would have happily lent them for free.

The Las Vegas edition will open at Resorts World in April, and will run through at least September—although that could be extended if things go well.

Marco Cochrane, <em>R-Evolution</em>. Photo courtesy of the artist and TRANSFIX.

Marco Cochrane, R-Evolution. Photo courtesy of the artist and TRANSFIX.

There will be works by artists such as Marco Cochrane, Foldhaus Collective, Christopher Schardt, Playmodes, HOTTEA, and Kevin Clark. The largest work is Christopher Bauder and KiNK’s Axion, a 10,000-square-foot illuminated sonic experiential installation that has never been shown in the U.S.

“We’re taking the underbelly of a 747 to fly that piece over here from Berlin,” Stinchfield said.

Works will be on view in 130 shipping containers in a sprawling 200,000 square-foot outdoor venue, with two-story viewing platforms to experience the monumental art from multiple vantage points—plus 10 bars where you can grab a drink. (Exploring the entire maze-like exhibition is expected to take about two hours.)

“It will be a great place to hang out and experience art in a whole new way,” Blatter said.

Pablo González Vargas, <em>ILUMINA</em>. Photo courtesy of the artist and TRANSFIX.

Pablo González Vargas, ILUMINA. Photo courtesy of the artist and TRANSFIX.

If Transfix’s ticket sales prove profitable, the proceeds will be used to commission new works for future residencies, with plans for stops in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Chicago.

“I’ve been participating as a sculpture artist at Burning Man since 1999, and I can tell you Burning Man creative culture is a gold mine of large-scale art. We pioneered massive, immersive and experiential art out there in that dessert,” Kate Raudenbush, whose 25-foot mirrored pyramid As Above, So Below is one of the inaugural works at Transfix, told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email.

She’s tired of being told that displaying her monumental works for free will provide valuable “exposure,” and is eager to create even bigger and more ambitious projects as Transfix takes off.

“I’m already dreaming up new ideas!” Raudenbush said.

“The ultimate goal is to build a creative ecosystem where people can be inspired by this art, but also give artists space to create,” Stinchfield added. “What we’re most excited about is writing that first check to an artist commissioning a piece that they’ve dreamed of their whole life that nobody would ever fund.”

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Here Are 5 Art Exhibitions to Check Out at World Pride Sydney 2023

Every two or three years since 2000, cities around the world have vied to play host to a massive celebration of LGBTQ Pride events in an event dubbed WorldPride. Rome, Jerusalem, London, Toronto, Madrid, New York, Copenhagen, and Malmo have all set the stage for the events, which include concerts, exhibitions, marches, and conferences.

Now, for the first time, WorldPride is taking place in the southern hemisphere in the city of Sydney, Australia, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first-ever Australian Gay Pride Week and the fifth anniversary of Marriage Equality in Australia.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most exciting exhibitions taking place across the city.


Queer Encounters” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
through March 5, 2023

Sione Tuívailala Monū, <i>KAKALA (TRIPTYCH)</i> (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Sione Tuívailala Monū, KAKALA (TRIPTYCH) (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is bringing together the work of artists Dennis Golding, Bhenji Ra, Sione Tuívailala Monū, and Sidney McMahon in an immersive installation that responds to the historic entrance of the museum, creating a “queer threshold.” Through cinematic photography, performance, and video, the artists imagine alternate landscapes through a queer lens.

Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH” at Carriageworks
through February 26, 2023

Installation view, "Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH" (2022). Courtesy of Carriageworks. Photo: Zan Wimberley.

Installation view, “Paul Yore: WORD MADE FLESH” (2022). Courtesy of Carriageworks. Photo: Zan Wimberley.

Carriageworks is presenting a maximalist, raucous, and engaging gesamtkunstwerk, encompassing artist Paul Yore’s handmade quilts, banners, sculptural collages, and architectural interventions. “WORD MADE FLESH imagines a queer alternative reality, erected from the wasteland of the Anthropocene, performatively implicating itself into the debased spectacle of hyper-capitalist society.”


Karla Dickens: Embracing Shadows” at the Cambelltown Arts Centre
through March 12, 2023

Karla Dickens, <i>For Sale</i> (2022) [detail]. Photo: Michelle Eabry.

Karla Dickens, For Sale (2022) [detail]. Photo: Michelle Eabry.

This 30-year career survey of Lismore-based Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens features important bodies of work spanning collage, sculpture, photography, painting, film, and poetry that reflect on a lifetime of generational trauma and learning to accept her identity. Her searing and insightful artworks probe broad political and societal issues like environmental degradation and institutional racism, as well as personal experiences of being a woman.


Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia at NAS Galleries
through March 18, 2023

Amos Gebhardt, Family Portrait (2020). Courtesy of the artist and NAS Galleries.

Amos Gebhardt, Family Portrait (2020). Courtesy of the artist and NAS Galleries.

This group exhibition curated by Richard Perram highlights the work of 31 artists  who bring unique perspectives toward queerness in Australia today. Representing a large swath of identities, the artists address themes of beauty, ancestry, heritage, self-love, and politics.


Absolutely Queer” at Powerhouse Ultimo
through December 2023

Mardi Gras costumes by Renè Rivas in "Absolutely Queer." Photo: Zan Wimberley.

Mardi Gras costumes by Renè Rivas in “Absolutely Queer.” Photo: Zan Wimberley.

This exhibition is truly a celebration of the queer creative community in Sydney, featuring artists, designers, and performers in an explosion of color, texture, and form. From the inflatable installations by Matthew Aberline and Maurice Goldberg of “The Beautiful and Useful Studio” to the cartoonist and social activist Norrie to the Mardi Gras costume designer Renè Rivas, “Absolutely Queer” is an absolute must-see.


Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

WikiLeaks Is Showing Classified Government Cables in an Art Exhibition Raising Awareness About Threats to Free Speech

Visitors could be prosecuted for viewing some of the materials included in an art exhibition being staged by Wikileaks in London. The show will address tactics of government oppression and the state of freedom of speech in contemporary societies, and includes hard copies of the classified government cables leaked by Julian Assange in 2010.

Ai Weiwei, Dread Scott, Santiago Sierra, Andrei Molodkin, and the late Vivienne Westwood are among the artists ensemble also featured in the upcoming exhibition. Titled “States of Violence,” the show that will run from March 24 to April 8 is a first-time collaboration between the international nonprofit, the London-based art organization a/political, and the Wau Holland Foundation, named for the German “hacktivist” cofounder of the Chaos Computer Club. The exhibition coincides with the fourth anniversary of the detention of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the U.K. capital. Assange remains in the high security Belmarsh Prison while the U.S. attempts to extradite him under the Espionage Act, which could lead to 175 years of imprisonment.

The show will also feature Secret+Noforn (2022) by the Institute for Dissent & Datalove. The body of work is said to be the largest physical publication of classified U.S. diplomatic cables from the 2010 WikiLeaks Cablegate—the publication of which led to Assange’s prosecution. Consisting of 66 books, the presentation will be the first time the top secret government cables have been shown in hard copy in the U.K.

Dread Scott - Obliterated Power Pentagon

Dread Scott, Obliterated Power Pentagon. Courtesy of the artist.

Although the cables have been widely available online for over a decade, possession and access of the materials may still come with legal consequences as the American Espionage Act enacted in 1917 is still valid today. This means that visitors at the exhibition opening one of the 66 books are advised that they risk being prosecuted for the same crime for which Assange is facing extradition.

The goal of the exhibition, explained WikiLeaks Ambassador Joseph Farrell, is not just about campaigning for Assange, but raising awareness about wider threats to freedom of speech. “If they are successful in getting an Australian out of Europe, the precedent will be set for a British journalist that writes something that the Chinese government doesn’t like—there’s nothing to stop the Chinese government from requesting the extradition and putting them in prison. It is a much greater issue,” Farrell told Midnight Publishing Group News.

The organizers hope the artworks on show demonstrate various forms of violence and institutional oppression that have been employed by the states to target dissidents.

Andrei Molodkin - Wikileaks Blood Logo

Andrei Molodkin, Wikileaks Blood Logo. Courtesy of the artist.

The curatorial team is still finalizing the exhibition plan and declined to say exactly how many works and how many artists will be featured in a/political’s Kennington venue. “We hope that culture is the last free space to be speaking about this. But even culture, even artists are struggling for their freedom of speech. A number of artists we work with have been imprisoned or on the wrong side of the law or their work being censored,” said a spokesperson of a/political.

Among the works on show will be Ai Weiwei’s photography series Study of Perspective, which sees the Chinese artist-activist raising his middle finger to pieces of architecture representing the institutional authority. One of the works the series, Tiananmen, which has been censored in Hong Kong, will also be on display. Works by the legendary designer Westwood, supported by the Vivienne Foundation, will “have a strong presence” at show, according to a/political, as well as a public program hosted by hip-hop artist and activist Lowkey. A closing music event will be held in collaboration with Shangri-La Glastonbury on April 8.

More Trending Stories:

The Sagrada Familia Will Finally Be Completed in 2026. The Last Challenge? Demolishing the Homes of Some 3,000 Local Residents

VIP Day at Frieze Los Angeles’s New Airport Venue Takes Off With Soaring Sales and Its Now-Signature Star-Studded Crowd

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Santa Fe Home, Visited by the Dalai Lama and Later Owned by Paul Allen, Is for Sale for $15 Million

Stefan Simchowitz May No Longer Be Hated by the LA Art Scene, Kanye West Shows Up Uninvited at a Frieze Party, and More Juicy Art World Gossip

See How Artist Brigitte D’Annibale Transformed an Abandoned Malibu Home Into a Spectacular Immersive Installation

Art Industry News: Princess Diana’s Turbulent Personal Letters Sell at Auction + Other Stories

Five Archaeological Museums in Greece Have Closed in Protest of a New Law That Puts Them Under Government Control

The Spring Break Art Fair Once Again Brings Quirky Surprises to Los Angeles, From Musical Chandeliers to Live Mystery Tattooing

Archaeologists Broke Open King Tut’s Inner Tomb Exactly 100 Years Ago. Here Are 5 of the Most Opulent Artifacts They Found

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Carolyn Lazard’s Latest Work Offers Another Way to Experience the Beauty of Dance—Almost Entirely Without Sight

Dance is a highly physical art form that often includes numerous senses. Dancers traditionally respond to a beat or melody through hearing; their sense of touch will be used for intricate movements against the floor and in relation to fellow performers. But it is usually the sight of dance that is put centre stage for the audience. Carolyn Lazard, a New York and Philadelphia-based artist and writer, dynamically challenges the way that dance is experienced in a new exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary. 

In their collaborative work Long Take, Lazard almost removes the sense of sight and presents a creative dance piece through a sound installation, complete with recorded reading of a dance score, sounds of the performer’s movements and breath, and an audio description on a black screen. The piece confronts the hierarchy often given to the senses within the arts, with sight typically valued as the most important. Long Take calls for a different approach to rigid ideas that impinge accessibility, expanding the limits of what dance in a public space can be.

“European culture and philosophy has largely privileged sight as our primary means of producing knowledge,” said Lazard. “It’s an epistemic violence that narrows the infinite possibilities for how we make meaning in life.”

The exhibition takes a complete approach to its message. As part of the installation, Lazard has altered four of Nottingham Contemporary’s benches to create a more welcoming and comfortable experience for visitors with different access needs. The heights of the benches have been altered, and cushions and backrests have been added. Their practice is not only a powerful call to explore accessibility and inclusion within the work itself, it also takes a practical approach to reframing the oftentimes exclusive world of art galleries and institutions.

In 2019 they wrote Accessibility in the Arts: A Promise and a Practice. It is a clear yet richly researched guide for small-scale nonprofits to become more open to the public they serve. It covers topics from how best to list access information to different accommodations that can be made to support visitors with varying needs. The straightforward guide delves into matters such as childcare, content warnings, and touch tours for people who are blind or vision impaired. 

“Museums are a colonial project, and therefore inherently ableist,” said “Long Take” co-curator Olivia Aherne, who has worked with Rosa Tyhurst on the exhibition. “They create, perpetuate and reinforce forms of hegemonic power. Within that, productivity and competency are of utmost importance.” The curator added that Lazard’s guide was persuasive that greater accessibility can be achieved regardless of available resources. “It’s about assessing priorities and redirecting resources, both in terms of what you value and privilege but also more practically what you budget for.”

Many of the suggestions in the Accessibility in the Arts guide are seemingly simple for galleries to take on, but surprisingly few spaces have. Lazard’s collaborative approach to art making exposes the power that can be found in working together to find innovative solutions. 

Long Take is about the relational and how people provide care and access for each other always, before, after, and beyond what one might call the state or the economy,” they said, adding that they invited dancer and writer Jerron Herman and writer and artist Joselia Rebekah Hughes to make this work. “We are all in an extended community of artists who are interested in questions of care and access aesthetics…We danced together, we listened together, we recorded together, and we wrote together.”

An urgent issue within public care systems is the racism and inequality that lie at the heart of their structures. Lazard’s 2019 work Pain Scale confronted the minimization of Black pain that is inherent within the United States’ medical services. The piece depicts a row of brown faces, created in the image of the emoji-like expressions that are presented to patients in hospitals to communicate the level of pain they are feeling. Except in Lazard’s work, all the faces are smiling. The only option for those picking from this scale, is happy and pain free. 

The work speaks to disturbing findings that have been uncovered within the US care system. A 2016 study found that 50 percent of US medical students believed Black people to have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people. A broader meta-analysis of two decades of studies found that Black patients were 22 percent less likely than white patients to receive pain medication when requested. These deeply rooted, racist misconceptions can make a world of difference to how a patient is treated by the medical profession, if indeed they are deemed to need treatment at all.

We need to see “the end of the world as it is,” Lazard said, when asked what must change in the United States to address this systemic racism within the care system. Their work is a rallying cry for equality in care and access, but also a creative and often practical exploration of how this might happen.

In Long Take, the work embodies its message. It doesn’t just tell its audience why vision-favored works can be problematic, it shows them another, highly enriching way of experiencing a popular art form. Importantly, the work shows that accessibility within art does not have to mean a reduction of complexity. “In its layered form—score, sound, description—Long Take turns away from ideas of transparency or coherence, arguing that disabled people also deserve access to incoherency,” says Ahearne. “I think that’s really important to note.”

Carolyn Lazard: Long Take” is on view through May 7 at Nottingham Contemporary.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: