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The Guerilla Girls
Recently, in talking about PCism in the arts, not surprisingly, the discussion eventually came around to the most PC group IN the arts--the Guerilla Girls. Specifically this "secret" group of militant female artists is concerned with sexism, sexual intolerance, and sexual equality, in the fine arts. Secondarily, they have also promoted feminism in general, racial equality, and ethnicity as it applies to the female presence in the arts (or lack of it). They originally took themselves very seriously, perhaps because few others in the art world would. Eventually, they found that "lightening up," injecting humour into their protests, worked to involve others of both sexes in their cause without the earlier fear or intimidation their late-night poster-pasting forays and other "guerilla tactics" had wrought.

The group began in 1985 when the Museum of Modern Art opened an exhibition titled "An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture." Someone happened to notice that of the 169 artists represented, only 13 were women. As if that weren't bad enough, the curator of the show, Kynaston McShine, suggested any artist who was not represented should "...rethink HIS career." A little research suggested that, unfortunately, the MoMA show was, indeed, representative of the art world as a whole. Sexual discrimination was rampant, yet no one would accept blame. Dealers said it was a matter of quality rather than discrimination. They blamed curators, who blamed collectors, who blamed critics. The Guerilla Girls blamed them all, and one bright, crisp, October morning in '85, the first of their infamous posters suddenly appear plastered all over the signs and gallery storefronts of SoHo.

To date, the Guerilla Girls have produced over seventy more posters and newspaper attack adds blasting politicians, gallery owners, academicians, curators, the Broadway and movie industries, and other assorted white male power brokers for their sexual prejudices, discrimination, and insensitivities. One of the better ones features Ingres' famous nude, Odalisque, wearing their trademark gorilla mask. It asks the question, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" Then it points out that less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, while fully 85% of the nudes are female. Another poster lists the supposed advantages of being a female artist, such as: "Working without the pressure to succeed, not having to be in shows with men, knowing your career might pick up after you turn eighty, not being stuck in tenured teaching positions, or choosing between a career and motherhood."

Today, in addition to their numerous humorous posters, the Guerilla Girls also present lectures and bits of improvised street theatre to standing room only crowds at universities and other public forums. Names and faces are anonymous. Along with donning the gorilla masks in public, members take on the names of famous female artists in history such as Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Rosalba Carriera, and Lee Krasner. They point out in their newsletter "Hot Flashes" that as late as 1987, H. W. Janson's History of Art (a major college text) did not mention even one female artist in the whole history of Western art. (I found this hard to believe, so I checked. It's true--not even Cassatt or O’Keeffe.) The year after Janson died, his son revised the text to include 13, out of 2,300. To make up for the centuries of overt sexual discrimination in the arts, Guerilla Girl, Georgia O’Keeffe, suggests that all art shows should now be 99% female and artists of colour...but only for the next four hundred years.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
10 August 2000


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