The Shack, 2001 by Rachel Feinstein. Wood, cedar, shingles, wire, plaster, nylon, fabric, mirror, gold leaf and enamel paint.

She is masturbating while lying on her belly, bigger than body size, sensitive to every brush of the skin, enjoying it. How do you do it from that position?

I am visiting Rachel Feinstein’s exhibition at the Jewish Museum, and the curious thing is that this woman, filled with pleasure, is not shown on any website, you only see her if you are there, in the flesh, as she is. I’ve a funny feeling about this, I’m already rattled and I can’t say why, everything I record on the voice-app for this review is a question, perhaps you can help me with some answers.

WHAT: Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone
WHERE: The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Ave at 92nd St, New York
WHEN: November 1, 2019 – March 22, 2020

But let’s back up, as I open the door there is a bigger-than-life white figure with mirrors pointing everywhere (“Model”). I cannot see my reflection in any of them from a prudent distance so I approach it at a risky level -where the guard could raise an eyebrow- and I see my double chin from below, not what I was expecting. Is it ever when I look at myself?

I leave it behind and turn right toward the maidens. Four women in different shapes and moods, a room which has a black broken 1800s carriage at the exit on the back (“Puritan’s Delight”), it is so broken that the wheels are nailed to the ground with spikes the shape of crosses. Are these women trapped?

One woman looks like a sex worker (“Butterfly), way too much makeup, barely clothed, high heels, the whole charade. Then there is the Victorian woman looking far into the fields, goat in hand, who is literally showcasing her pussy on the left side of her body. She is intentionally showing a big amplified open pink labia. Fertility in-your-face! (“The Bleeding Shepherdess). Then a woman that seems deep into addiction (Icicles), lost, also colorful but gone into perdition, only available to the drug of choice, followed by the one drawn in pleasure from above.

The fairy tale I get from the sculpture at the center of all four (“The Shack) is that of Snow White. The flavored steps leading up to the vanity mirror (blueberry, strawberry, lemon, pistachio, orange) are guarded by women who are covering their faces. The size of the imaginary room at the top is what you would expect of Paris Hilton’s $300,000 dog house.  And the question is: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” That may explain why the guarding women don’t show their faces, it’s because that’s not the question, maybe beauty lies somewhere else, seldom where we think it is and never black and white. Can we wake up to the kiss of our inner prince and own the color of our steps?

The wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling paintings surrounding the room are of the Empire, which fills me with pompous darkness of grey and little touches of red here and there. Oh, and if you are wondering, it doesn’t matter which empire, It’s what we call the norm, the male empire, course it is. So how do we express the full of our femininity and give ourselves permission? The chariot is broken! Unless, wait, there is hope in the murals, where you wouldn’t expect it. Amidst the Romans there is a painted chariot that looks awfully familiar because it’s the same as the broken one. This 2D version is small for a human, but it will do, we shall make it work, we always do. Then what?

The middle room

There are only two statues, one is a man and woman copulating (“Humpers) and I am repelled by it because it’s too graphic, the other is a woman made of wood, a woman of the earth who has lost a breast (“Alice). What brings life and what takes it away, orgasm and death, I reject both, I can’t stand it, and the video on the background makes it worse. Maybe we escaped the empire but nobody escapes the cycle of birth and death. For a moment I wish I’d not been born, life has too many ups and downs, it swings from the ecstasies of pleasure to the agony of a slow death, with only dreams in between like those in the video, story-lines that make little sense.

The third room

The crones are lined up, hanging in portraits as the dead would have it, with a dark red velvet curtain behind. They are women from another time, none of them are happy, only one is deviously enjoying it but not in a good way, she is the wicked step mother from Cinderella. The portraits are mirrors, literally, meaning that the faces are painted on mirrors, not canvas, which gives me the opportunity of photo bombing a few. Gosh have I been that stepmother? Why am I even getting in the picture? I’m in it because I am next in keen, death is leaking my feet, and I have a choice of old age being different from how it was back then, meaning the archetypal then. Will my faint legacy live or will I be a joke to bomb on? I’d rather the crone years be a big life in service to others, in which I pass the little I learned every time I broke down, a life of letting the young maidens of today know that we are OK, exactly as we are.

He was gone at 33 and his white chest is expanded upwards and forward defying death (“Crucifixion). Enter the mother, and who isn’t one? I did not bear children but I have a two-year-old niece who by virtue of being blood feels free to enter my dreams. Those dreams are terrifying, I need to give her oxygen, or she is falling asleep in my arms and all buildings around me start collapsing, how on earth do I protect her?

So, how did Mary do it? How did she watch as her son went through all of that, even if he was the son of God as he said. That is her son, crucified, human size. The cross is rooted on Mary’s vagina before finally going underground. Her pain, a mother’s pain is difficult to watch, she stares up at him, her face covered and at a profile, she is dying too, that’s her baby. Why do we ever kill?

Mary Magdalene gives her back to me as if to say: ‘don’t even!’ She understands the unnecessary collective ignorance of the scene. Many of us women cannot bear to kill because we give birth, we channel the seed of man and make it into new life, we are the vehicle, and we know about pain, we feel it on a cycle.

The resurrection is missing. As per usual we only see death by torture, not the other side. We never see the part where Magdalene has the eyes to see him resurrect, the deeper meaning, which is that what makes us suffer is also our teacher, if we dare change our perceptions and surrender to the flow of life. Are we ready to see?

Jesus is of two faces, from one side we see him open, chest up, shooting towards the holy, but on the other side we see his transfigured human face bathed in agony, a man of flesh and bones. How did he ask for forgiveness of the brutal people around him? Could I ever forgive like that?

Thunderstorms. It rains over a dark Central Park and it’s not even 4 PM. Winter in New York.

I love the colors on the Jewish mother (“Good Times) looking upwards to her fruits of two happy children embracing the tree of life, walking through the branches. A much needed contrast to Mary and her boy.

And the windows full of light on the walls all around? Do we now have a room of our own? Can we have it all?

What I get from the exhibition is something bigger that an incredible display of colors, shapes, textures, fairy tales and questions, it’s more like how we come to see our rightful size, our place in the world. What is the size at which I will show up for the few hours I’ll be on this planet? Will I wonder if I am the most beautiful or will I give my life in service to mothering others? Will I venture into my own femininity with no regrets or will I shrink as an addict would. Do I have it in me to feel the pain of death and forgive others? Or will I be a forgotten picture lying lifeless in a box in the attic?

Good Times, 2005, By Rachel Feinstein. Wood, Aqua Resin, and oil enamel. (Courtesy: the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen).