Guerrilla Girls

Founded 1984 New York, United States

Biography

The Guerrilla Girls are a collective who highlight discrimination and corruption in the art world, film, politics, and pop culture. The group comprises an undisclosed number of female artists who hide their identities by wearing gorilla masks and assuming pseudonyms taken from deceased women artists, such as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and German printmaker Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). The anonymity of the group means that they can draw attention to the issues rather than to personalities, reacting against the artworld obsession with individual artists. 

The collective was first conceived in New York in 1984 in response to the realisation that only 7.7% of the works included within the blockbuster exhibition International Survey of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (1984) were by female artists. To draw awareness to this bias, they launched a poster campaign in 1985 targeting museums, dealers, curators, critics and artists who they felt were actively responsible for, or complicit in, the exclusion of women and artists of colour from mainstream exhibitions and publications.

 

Artwork Information

The three artworks by the Guerrilla Girls in the Collection form part of a thirty-piece portfolio of posters entitled Guerrilla Girls Talk Back. Dubbing themselves the ‘conscience of the art world’, these posters appropriate the visual language of advertising in order to highlight inequalities within the art market and public collections. 

Do Women have to be Naked to get into the Met Museum? (1989) was originally commissioned as a billboard by the Public Art Fund in New York. Rejected for its unclear message, the Guerrilla Girls then funded their own bus advertisement which was in turn withdrawn for being “too suggestive”. The fan held by the naked woman in a gorilla mask was claimed to be a phallus. Taken from an artwork by Jean Auguste Dominique (1780 – 1867), the female nude is made distinctive to the collective through the inclusion of statistics and the anonymising gorilla mask. Commissioned in 1989, the Guerrilla Girls produced the figures by counting the number of women artists represented in the modern galleries at the Met Museum and comparing it with the number of naked female bodies featured in the artworks on display. The poster was reissued in 2005 and 2012, attesting to its continued relevance. 

The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988) is demonstrative of how the collective uses wit and humour to draw awareness to sex-based discrimination in the art world.  Points such as ‘Working without the pressure of success’ suggest a climate of hopelessness for women artists, whilst ‘Having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs’ and ‘Not being stuck in a tenured teaching position’ speak to the insecure job market for women working in the industry.

Estrogen Bomb (2012) is a critique of the George W. Bush administration in America. It suggests that certain aggressive policies might be reversed if the Washington ruling class were less testosterone-driven. The poster is indicative of the widened political remit covered by the Guerrilla Girls in comparison to the earlier days of specifically campaigning for the better treatment and representation of women artists.