The Cult of Ugliness: A New exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures by Georgina Gratrix in Conversation with Irma Stern’s Artworks at The Iconic Painter’s Former Home. 


The UCT Irma Stern Museum is delighted to host the celebrated painter Georgina Gratrix as its second artist in residence for 2022. As part of the museum’s 50th anniversary year, Gratrix has worked in the museum residency studio from July to September 2022. Artworks produced during this time will be exhibited at the museum from 28 September 2022 onwards.

Born a century after the renowned South African artist Irma Stern (1894 – 1966), contemporary artist Georgina Gratrix (1982) is, like Stern, a dedicated colourist testing the limits of oil painting. Many aspects of Stern’s work are reflected in Gratrix’s pieces; composition, colouration and subject matter. In this way, Gratrix makes both direct and indirect references to Stern.

Shortly after her first exhibition in South Africa a century ago, Stern was lambasted by the local media. In a review titled “Art of Miss Irma Stern – Ugliness as a Cult,” one critic referred to her work as a “Freak Picture Exhibition.” 100 years later, Gratrix takes this sentiment as her point of departure to examine the ways in which Modernism, and in particular German Expressionism, have made an impact on her own work and how this historical influence continues to shape contemporary art today.  

“The Cult of Ugliness” has a long precedent. It begins with the publication of German philosopher Karl Rosenkranz’s “The Aesthetics of the Ugly” in 1853. Later, in 1913, the poet Ezra Pound used the phrase to distinguish artwork that differed from what he described as belonging to the “Cult of Beauty”. Most recently Umberto Eco deployed the phrase in his 2017 book “On Ugliness,” where he asks why it is that through the centuries, there have there been so many theories on beauty but none on what we call “ugly”.

“You can’t have one without the other” says Gratrix, who, like Stern, has had accusations of ugliness levelled at her work. Gratrix is interested in the gaudy, the obvious and the banal. Her paintings playfully investigate the boundaries between desirability and the grotesque. “All painting is a conversation with the history of painting,” Gratrix says of her intentions for her show at the museum.

During the residency, Gratrix spent time painting her own collection of objects, as well as the rich and varied archive of Stern’s personal trove. Brought together, these resources offer endless inspiration. In addition to these new works, Gratrix will include previously unexhibited paintings from her own collection, that will find new meaning in the context of the museum.

For more information and dates for walkabouts and events, please see below and visit the UCT Irma Stern Museum website – Follow the museum on social media via

Walkabouts with Georgina Gratrix: 

  • 05 October 2022 from 15h00 – 16h00 
  • 26 November 2022 from 11h00 – 12h30 

Booking via is essential.

Discussion with Georgina Gratrix and Sean O’Toole:

5 November from 11h00 – 12h00

Booking via is essential.

Ugly/Beautiful: practical art-making workshops with UCT Irma Stern Museum Curator and Educator Nobukho Nqaba 

Date to be confirmed. 

Booking via is essential and the cost is R 200 per person which covers light refreshment and art materials. Limited sponsored bookings are available. 

Contact: Nadja Daehnke

021 650 7240 or 0823165272