In 1985, a group of New York-based women artists banded together to protest the rampant discrimination in a male curated, male-centric Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) show (where out of the 169 artists represented, only 13 were female). Out of that spirit, the highly vocal, social-crime-fighting, vigilante, primate-masked, anonymous, but ever watchful (and score-keeping) feminist collective the Guerrilla Girls was born.
“Corruption in the art world drives us crazy, but the lack of human rights for women and children all over the world, especially in areas of war and conflict, makes us APOPLECTIC”.
Their ingenious, rabble rousing, and take-no-prisoners interventions have become the stuff of art world legend: papering city walls with posters decrying museum misconduct and creating alternative text books that expose the prejudicial, statistically lopsided facts absent in most art history 101 supplements are just two of their preferred modes of attack.
One such poster, created in 1989, famously revealed a disheartening statistic about the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and featured an illustrated body of Ingres’s Grande Odalisque collaged with a fierce gorilla head):
“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”
More than 20 years and a few generations of curators, critics, and collectors later, one might assume that the Guerrilla Girls have fulfilled their cultural purpose, and that the art world—presumably that great bastion of free, liberated thinking—has leveled the inequality in their ranks. In other words, hasn’t feminism accomplished its goals, and now aren’t women artists just as visibly represented, well-paid, and market-saturated as their male counterparts? Here is a quote from Activity #4 in The Guerrilla Girls’ Updated Art Museum Activity Book, due out this month from Printed Matter:
“In 2011, we did our latest recount. We were sure things had improved, but surprise! Only 4% of the artists in the Modern and Contemporary sections were women, but 76% of the nudes were female. Fewer women artists, more naked males. Is this progress?”
“We’re feminist masked avengers in the tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Wonder Woman and Batman. How do we expose sexism, racism and corruption in politics, art, film and pop culture? With facts, humor and outrageous visuals. We reveal the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair”.
“Guess we can’t put our masks away yet.” Guerrilla Girls