/ Reflections on a “Well Behaved Woman”

Reflections on a “Well Behaved Woman”

If you have not visited Jenny Reinhardt’s art on display in the RAM gallery, you’re missing out.

Since visiting it on 3/16, I have thought about it daily. It occupied my first thoughts this morning, so I decided to write about it.

The gallery space is part of the experience:

Upon entering, the fluorescent colors, the glaze that makes each piece shine, and the popping pinks loudly proclaim what the world wants to hear: everything is perfect. This first room, filled with glitzy glamor, is all that is visible from outside the gallery looking in. It is a view of the “Well Behaved Woman”: giving the world the appearance it wants to see.

Not until you enter further into the space, into the life of the well behaved woman, do you see past the intentional facade.

The front face of the column that greets you when you enter bears the name of the exhibit: Well Behaved Woman.

On the back of the same column, only when you can see what lies hidden from public view, is a painting of a woman in pain.

In the next room is the featured piece: a painting of Jenny’s daughter.

This is no accident. The gallery is an autobiography. What does Jenny, a “well behaved woman,” put first? Her children. They take center stage in her exhibit as they do in her life.

Adjacent to the centerpiece are the truest representations of the life and feelings of the well behaved woman. These pieces, like the emotions of the well behaved woman, are pushed to the side of the main attraction, not only seen as less important but truly pushed by the well behaved woman to the side because she put her own feelings aside.

The painting to the right of the centerpiece was where I spent most of my time in the gallery.

It contains the same floral colors, but the deep, blood-red and black tell you that the well behaved woman suffered in the background. Likewise, the many layers mostly cover the cartoon images portraying the perfect domestic life. Those were the dream; they have been covered by reality.

Not until I saw and contemplated this piece did I realize that all of the pieces in the entryway were themselves acts of defiance. Only then did I realize the deeper message of the earlier pieces: “I am giving you a superficial front; you have no idea what lies beneath. You’re fixated on glamor, because that is exactly what I want you to see.”

The sketches of the nude woman are also self-portraits, not physically but metaphorically. Jenny leaves herself vulnerable and exposed (metaphorically naked) through her art. Jenny lets you see below the top layers.

The exhibit “Well Behaved Woman” writes a message to all well behaved women: “WELL BEHAVED WOMEN DON’T MAKE HISTORY.”

More broadly, well behaved people (those who only do what society prescribes) don’t make history. If you’re more worried about offending someone than being independent and courageous, you might live a good life, but you won’t make history.

Jenny is practicing what she is preaching. She betrays the superficial front of the well behaved woman. She shows what is underneath the shiny surface, the glamor, the self-sacrifice.

The exhibit is visually beautiful, but its most striking beauty lies in the experience and the insights it brings the viewer of the life of a well behaved woman.


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