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Guerrilla Girls and the Art World

In 1985, the Guerrilla Girls were born out of a protest at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit.


Last week, I attended the Meret Oppenheim’s exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). As I wondered through the museum, I noted the women artists and thought about how it was founded by three progressive patrons of the arts Lillie P. Bliss, Mary Quinn Sullivan, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller but all the arts are still male dominated. There is still a disparity, and the improvements are to the credit of the Guerrilla Girls but work still needs to be done.


In 1985, the Guerrilla Girls were born out of a protest at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit, An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. Touted as the most current snapshot of the today’s artists, it included artists from 17 countries made up of 148 men, 13 women and no artists of color. The exhibit celebrated the museum’s reopening, but women artists were moved to action not only by this disparity but also by the words of the show’s senior curator of painting and sculpture, Kynaston McShine who stated, “It was important to have work from a lot of different places and introduce a large public to a great deal of activity. I wanted it to be an international cross-section of what is going on.” His following statement, “I think that some people can benefit from not being in the show…They will have to think about their work.”


As a result of his words, a “picket line” formed outside of the MoMA with 200 members from the Women’s Caucus for Art with their first national president and art historian, Ann Sutherland Harris. She stated, “When a prominent museum like the Modern doesn’t reflect the contribution of women today, it’s not socially responsible.”


Two women observing the protest found this style outdated and decided on the spot to form a group and invited women to one of their apartments. The women agreed a new protesting technique to fight discrimination in all the arts was needed. The Guerrilla style included keeping their identity anonymous while using pseudonyms of deceased female artists and wearing guerilla masks in public. The women who initiated the Guerrilla Girls chose Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz. “We were funny instead of super serious all the time… No one knew who we were. And we caused a sensation.” explained the Gertrude Stein Guerrilla Girl (https://www.getty.edu/research/special_collections/notable/guerrilla_girls)


After midnight, they began by going through SOHO with their homemade wheat paste, plastering posters with professional graphics covered in facts and statistics, with a dash of humor to make them engaging, about galleries that did not represent women. “They allow their work to be shown in galleries that show less than 10 percent women artists or none at all.” And it was signed “Guerrilla Girls, Conscience of the Art World.” (https://www.aaa.si.edu/download_pdf_transcript)


Over the decades the Guerrilla Girls reinvented the ‘F’ Word Feminism: “We believe in an intersectional feminism that fights for human rights for all people. We undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair. We have done hundreds of projects (street posters, banners, actions, books, and videos) all over the world. We also do interventions and exhibitions at art museums, blasting them on their own walls for their bad behavior and discriminatory practices, including a stealth projection on the façade of the Whitney Museum about income inequality and the super-rich hijacking art.”


Guerrilla Girl Motto: “Do one thing. If it works, do another. If it doesn’t, do another anyway. Keep chipping away!”





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