Installation view, Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power & Protest

Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power & Protest


Women who rebelled against sexist social rules have been trivialized and controlled for centuries. Portrayed according to stereotypes or vilified, women acting on their own behalf have been undermined consistently by their representation in Western art. Spanning the Renaissance to the progressive social movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries, this exhibition links heroines of the past with modern trailblazers, celebrating women throughout history who broke rules, transgressed boundaries, and insisted upon recognition of their human rights.

Approximately 75 prints, photographs, and books illustrate female power and courage over five centuries into the modern era when women were actively engaging to effect social change. In the first section, prints by such canonical artists as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Francisco de Goya, and Edvard Munch demonstrate how iconic portrayals of powerful women of the past have informed our subsequent understanding of female agency. The second section celebrates women who pursued identities beyond the traditional categories of wife and mother, expanding their presence into the public sphere as dancers, actresses, musicians, authors, and advocates for civil rights. The exhibition title nods to the well-known quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” from a 1976 essay by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Generations of women have continued to give this maxim a life of its own, rallying behind it as a call for challenging societal standards.


Curated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

This exhibition is supported by Nancy Hackerman, Clair Zamoiski Segal, Amy and Marc Meadows, Patricia Lasher and Richard Jacobs, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.