|Motto||Reinventing the "F" word: feminism!|
|Headquarters||New York, New York, United States|
Guerrilla Girls is an anonymous group of radical feminist, female artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the artworld. The group formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality into focus within the greater arts community. The group employs culture jamming in the form of posters, books, billboards, and public appearances to expose discrimination and corruption. To remain anonymous, members don gorilla masks and use pseudonyms that refer to deceased female artists. According to GG1, identities are concealed because issues matter more than individual identities, "[M]ainlly, we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities or our own work."
- 1 History
- 2 Influences
- 3 Work
- 4 Beyond the artworld
- 5 Controversies
- 6 Members and names
- 7 Gorilla symbolism
- 8 Notable collections
- 9 Notable exhibitions
- 10 Legacy
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
In the spring of 1985, seven women launched the Guerrilla Girls in response to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture" [1984), whose roster of 165 artists included only 13 women. Inaugurating MoMA's newly renovated and expanded building, this exhibition claimed to survey that era's most important painters and sculptors from 17 countries. The proportion of artists of color was even smaller, none of whom were women.
A comment by the show's curator, Kynaston McShine, further highlights that era's explicit artworld gender bias: "Kynaston McShine gave interviews saying that any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink ‘his’ career." In reaction to the exhibition and McShine's overt bias, they protested in front of MoMA. Thus, the Guerrilla Girls were born.
Soon after, the group expanded their focus to include racism in the artworld, attracting artists of color. They also took on projects outside of New York, enabling them to address sexism and racism nationally and internationally. Though the art world has remained the group's main focus, the Guerrilla Girls' agenda has included sexism and racism in films, mass and popular culture, and politics. Tokenism also represents a major group concern.
During its first years, the Guerrilla Girls conducted "weenie counts," such that members visited institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and counted artworks' male-to-female subject ratios. Data gathered from the Met's public collections in 1989 showed that women artists had produced less than 5% of the works in the Modern Art Department, while 85% of the nudes were female.
Early organizing was based around meetings, during which members evaluated statistical data gathered regarding gender inequality within the New York City's art scene. The Guerrilla Girls also worked closely with artists, encouraging them to speak to those within the community to bridge the gender gap where they perceived it.
When asked about the masks, the girls answer "We were Guerrillas before we were Gorillas. From the beginning the press wanted publicity photos. We needed a disguise. No one remembers, for sure, how we got our fur, but one story is that at an early meeting, an original girl, a bad speller, wrote 'Gorilla' instead of 'Guerrilla.' It was an enlightened mistake. It gave us our 'mask-ulinity.'". In an interview with New York Times the Girls were quoted, "Anonymous free speech is protected by the Constitution. You'd be surprised what comes out of your mouth when you wear a mask." 
Since 1985, the Guerrilla Girls have witnessed many positive changes, including an increased awareness of sexism and greater accountability on the part of curators, art dealers, collectors and critics. The group is credited, above all, with sparking dialogue and bringing national and international attention to issues of sexism and racism within the arts.
Many feminist artists in the 1970s dared to imagine that female artists should produce authentically and radically different art, undoing the prevailing visual paradigm. Also in the 1970s a pioneering feminist critic, Lucy Lippard, began curating all-women art shows to protest what she saw as the deeply flawed approach of merely assimilating women into the prevailing art system. Shaped by the 1970s women’s movement, the Guerrilla Girls resolved to devise new methods. They noticed a decline in the tactics of the 1970s feminist campaigns, such as the ineffectual picket line the Women’s Caucus for Art had mustered at MoMa. "We had to have a new image and a new kind of language to appeal to a younger generation of women," recalls one of the founding Guerrilla Girls, who goes by “Liubov Popova.”  Guerrilla Girls sought an alternative to claims that the 1970s Feminist movements were man-hating, anti-maternal, strident, and humorless: Versed in poststructuralist theories, they adopted 1970s initiatives, but with a different language and style. 1970s feminists had tackled grim and unfunny issues such as sexual violence, inspiring the Guerrilla Girls to prevent a public backlash and to keep their spirits intact by approaching their work with wit and laughter.
Although the Guerrilla Girls gained fame for wheatpasting provocative campaign posters around New York City, the group has also enjoyed public commissions and indoor exhibitions, no differently than ground-breaking street artists such as Robbie Conal, Jenny Holzer and Keith Haring.
Early solo exhibitions included: "The Night the Palladium Apologized" (1985), Palladium (New York City); "Guerrilla Girls Review the Whitney" (1987), Clocktower PS1; and "Guerrilla Girls" (1995), Printed Matter, Inc
Career surveys have included: "Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: The First Five Years, A Retrospective: 1985-1990" (1991), the Falkirk Cultural Center, San Rafael; "The Guerrilla Girls" (2002), Fundacíon BilbaoArte; "Guerrilla Girls" (2007), Hellenic American Union Galleries; "Guerilla Girls: Retrospective" (2009), Millenium Court Arts Centre, UK; "Feminist Masked Avengers: 30 Early Guerrilla Girls' Posters" (2011), Mason Gross School of the Arts Galleries; "Not Ready to Make Nice: The Guerrilla Girls in the Art World and Beyond" (2012-2016)(Traveled to Monserrat College of Art; Krannert Art Museum; Fairfield University; Georgia Museum of Art; De Pauw University; and Stony Brook University), and "Guerrilla Girls: 1985-2013" (2013), Azkuna Zentroa.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the Guerrilla Girls, Matadero Madrid hosted "Guerrilla Girls: 1985-2015," an exhibition featuring most of the collective's production accompanied by a series of events including a talk/performance by Guerrilla Girl members Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz. The exhibition also showed the 1992 documentary "Guerrilla in Our Midst" by Amy Harrison. , and was followed by "Guerrilla Girls: Not Ready to Make Nice, 30 Years and Still Counting," Abrons Arts Center, "Media Networks: Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girls" (2016), Tate Modern, "Art at the Center: Guerrilla Girls" (2016), Walker Art Center, "Front Room: Guerilla Girls" (2016-2017), Baltimore Museum of Art; and "Not Ready to Make Nice: GUERRILLA GIRLS 1985-2016" (2016-2017), FRAC Lorraine.
The Guerrilla Girls have since done research into sexism and created artworks at the request of various people and institutions, among others, Istanbul Modern (2006), Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (2007), and Fundación BilbaoArte. They have also partnered with Amnesty International, contributing pieces to a show under the organization's "Protect the Human" initiative.
In recognition of their work, the Guerrilla Girls have been invited to give talks at world-renowned museums, including a presentation at the MoMA's 2007 "Feminist Futures" Symposium. They have also been invited to speak at art schools and universities across the globe, and gave a 2010 commencement speech at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Throughout their existence the Guerrilla Girls have gained the most attention for their bold protest art.
Guerrilla Girl works (mainly posters) express their ideals, opinions and concerns regarding numerous social topics. The Guerrilla Girls' art has always been fact-driven, and informed by the group's data collection and so-called "weenie counts." However, to be more inclusive and to make their posters more eye-catching, the Guerrilla Girls pair facts with humorous images: "We use facts, humor and outrageous visuals to expose sexism, racism and corruption in politics, art, film and pop culture." The group were also activists for equal representation of women in institutional art, and highlighted artist Louise Bourgeois in their "Advantages to Being a Women artist," poster in 1988 as one line read, "Knowing your career might not pick up till after you're 80." Their pieces are also notable for their use of combative statements such as '"When racism and sexism are no longer fashionable, what will your art collection be worth?"
In addition to posting posters around downtown Manhattan, they passed out thousands of small handbills based on their designs at various events. The first posters were mainly black and white fact-sheets, highlighting inequalities between male and female artists with regard to number of exhibitions, gallery representation and pay. Their posters revealed how sexist the art world was in comparison to other industries and to national averages. For example, in 1985 they printed a poster showing that the salary gap in the artworld between men and women was starker than the United States average, proclaiming "Women in America earn only 2/3 of what men do. Women artists earn only 1/3 of what men do."
These early posters often targeted specific galleries and artists. Another 1985 poster listed the names of some of the most famous working artists, such as Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra, and asked What do these artists have in common? with the answer they allow their work to be shown in galleries that show no more than 10% of women or none at all.
The posters were rude; they named names and they printed statistics (and almost always cited the source of those statistics at the bottom, making them difficult to dismiss). They embarrassed people. In other words, they worked.
The Guerrilla Girls' first color poster, which remains the group's most iconic image, is the 1989 Metropolitan Museum poster, which used data from the group's first "weenie count." In response to the overwhelming amount of female nudes counted in the Modern Art sections, the poster asks, sarcastically, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?". Next to the text is an image of the Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painting La Grande Odalisque, one of the most famous female nudes in Western art history, with a gorilla head placed over the original face.
In 1990, the group designed a billboard featuring the Mona Lisa that was placed along the West Side Highway supported by the New York City public art fund. For one day, New York's MTA Bus Company also displayed bus advertisements with Met. Museum poster. Stickers also became popular calling cards representative of the group. In the mid-1980s they infiltrated, without masks to maintain anonymity, the Guggenheim Museum bathrooms, placing stickers they had created about female inequality on the walls.
To shed light on inequality in the art world, the Guerrilla Girls have published numerous books. In 1995, they published their first book, Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, a compilation of 50 works plus a self-interview. In 1998, they published The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to History of Western Art, a consciousness-raising comic book that explores how women artists' careers have been constrained by male artists domination of art history. In 2003, they published Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, which examined "The Top Stereotypes from Cradle to Grave," offering thumbnail histories for cultural clichés ranging from "Daddy's Girl" and "the Girl Next Door" to "the Bimbo/Dumb Blonde" and "the Bitch /Ballbreaker", each given "trademark Guerrilla Girl treatment: pointed factoids and cool graphics." The 2004 book The Guerrilla Girl’s Museum Activity Book (with an updated edition from 2012) parodies children's museum activity books, with each activity meant to reveal a problematic aspect of museum culture and major museum collections. In 2009, they published a book concerning hysteria, The Hysterical Herstory Of Hysteria And How It Was Cured From Ancient Times Until Now.
Beyond the artworld
Since 2002, Guerrilla Girls, Inc. have designed and installed billboards in Los Angeles during the Oscars to expose white male dominance in the film industry, such as: "Anatomically Correct Oscars," "Even the Senate is More Progressive than Hollywood," "The Birth of Feminism," "Unchain the Women Directors."
- Stickers at Sundance (2001)
- The Birth of Feminism (original 2001 project for The Nation magazine)
- Anatomically Correct Oscar (2002 Hollywood Billboard),
- Even the Senate Is More Progressive than Hollywood (2003 Hollywood Billboard)
- Unchain the Women Directors(2006 Billboard)
- The Birth of Feminism (2007 Rotterdam banner), Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art
In light of #Oscarssowhite campaign, Guerrilla Girls updated these billboards during "Twin City Takeover"
Though the Guerrilla Girls' protest art directed at the art world remains their most well-known work, throughout their existence the group has also periodically created pieces attacking politicians, specifically conservative Republicans. Those criticized have included George Bush, Newt Gingrich and most recently Michele Bachmann.
Despite having routinely challenged art institutions to display more artists of color, both members and critics want the Guerrilla Girls to be more diverse. Zora Neale Hurston recalls Guerrilla Girl membership as “mostly white” and largely mirroring the art world demographics that they critiqued. Despite sporting gorilla masks to downplay personal identity, some members attribute Guerilla Girl interests to the fact that de facto leaders "Frida Kahlo" and "Kathe Kollwitz" are both white. (“Frida Kahlo” has also been criticized for her appropriation of a Latina artist’s name.) However, any precise information on the demographics of the Guerrilla Girls is impossible, for they have “staunchly, and problematically, resisted being surveyed as to the makeup of their own membership."
Several Guerrilla Girls who are people of color have faced numerous challenges. Despite the Guerrilla Girls' stance against tokenism, some artists of color abandoned Guerrilla Girl membership due to Tokenism, silencing, disrespect, and whitewashing. As a woman of color, “Alma Thomas” describes having felt uncomfortable wearing the Guerrilla Girls’ signature gorilla mask. "Thomas" recalls little effort being devoted to understanding the challenges of artists of color. “Their whiteness was such that they…. didn't understand that blacks were being put in a completely separate world in the art world, that black male artists and black female artists are completely separated, completely segregated to this day." Ultimately, this widespread antagonism led to many “artists of color [leaving] after a few meetings because they could sense the unspoken hierarchy in the group."
Second-wave feminism and essentialism
Emerging at the tail end of the second-wave feminist movement, the Guerrilla Girls navigated the differences between established and emerging feminist theory during the 1980s. “Alma Thomas” describes this grey-area that the Guerrilla Girls occupied as “universalist feminism,” bordering on essentialism. Art Historian Anna Chave considers the Guerrilla Girls’ essentialism much more profound, leading the group to be “assailed by… a rising generation of women wise in the ways of poststructuralist theory, for [their] putative naiveté and susceptibility to essentialism." Essentialist views are most clearly exhibited in two Guerrilla Girl books:The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art (1998) and the controversial Estrogen Bomb (2003–13) campaign. Regarding the former, “Alma Thomas” worried that The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art "was so embedded in that second-wave feminist and even pre-second-wave essentialism” that it fulfilled some assumption that all women artists are feminist artists.
Students at Minneapolis College of Art and Design criticized their Estrogen Bomb poster campaign, describing it as insensitive towards transgender people since it ties the female gender to estrogen, the same sort of essentialist link the Guerilla Girls aim to critique. Aside from essentialism, the Guerrilla Girls have also been critiqued for failing to integrate intersectionality into their work. However, it is important to note that Guerrilla Girl beliefs are hardly monolithic, as individual members hold many different understandings of feminism.
Leading up to a highly-publicized 2003 lawsuit, there was increasing animosity toward "Frida Kahlo" and "Käthe Kollwitz." Despite founding members' initial intention to create a non-hierarchal, equitable power structure, there was an increasing sense that two people were making "the final decisions no matter what you said." Several Guerrilla Girls felt that their second book, The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, primarily represented the views of “Kahlo” and “Kollwitz”. Some even felt that “Kahlo” and “Kollwitz” completely controlled the book, despite their having selected material created collectively by all Guerrilla Girls. There was even suspicion that these two not only claimed all the credit, but took all of the profits. Some members condemned the book as “undemocratic and… against the spirit of the [Guerrilla] Girls."
As the Guerilla Girls gained in popularity, tensions led to what the Girls later called the "banana split," as five members actually split from the collective. Soon after several members stepped aside to form Guerrilla Girls Broadband, “Kahlo” and “Kollwitz” moved to trademark the name “Guerrilla Girls, Inc." to distinguish their realm from those of Guerrilla Girls BroadBand and Guerrilla Girls On Tour!, whose focus is discrimination in the theater world. Even though their former colleague "Gertrude Stein" was in the on-tour group, "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" charged them with copyright and trademark infringement and unjust enrichment. Many members of the group felt especially betrayed that "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" had launched their lawsuit under their real names. 
This prompted negative reactions from both current and former Guerrilla Girls, who objected to “Kahlo” and “Kollwitz” claiming responsibility for having created the collective effort, as well as the flippancy with which the they exchanged their anonymity for legal standing.
Judge Louis L. Stanton, who handled the case, rejected the "bizarre" suggestion that defendants sporting gorilla masks be allowed to testify in his courtroom. He also stated that "Mundane court procedures for adjudicating legal rights and the ownership of property require direct and cross-examination of real persons with real addresses and attributes."
In their forty-five page complaint, "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" described themselves as the group's "guiding forces," even though the Guerrilla Girls were "informally organized, [and] had no official hierarchy." Initially, they asked the court to stop Guerrilla Girls Broadband from calling themselves Guerrilla Girls and sought millions of dollars in damages. In 2006, they settled with the theatre group who agreed to go by Guerrilla Girls on Tour.
Upon their 1985 debut, the Guerrilla Girls were "lauded by the very establishment they sought to undermine." They have since exhibited at Tate Modern, Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou, MoMA, which additionally grants them a broader audience for their concerns. Since then, this relationship has only intensified, as the Guerrilla Girls presented their exhibitions in museums and even allowed their works to be collected by hegemonic institutions. Although some question the efficacy, if not hypocrisy, of the group's working within the system that they originally denigrated. Still, few would challenge their decision to let the Getty Institute house their archives.
Members and names
Membership in the New York City group is by invitation only, based on relationships with current and past members, and one's involvement in the contemporary art world. A mentoring program was formed within the group, pairing a new member with an experienced Guerrilla Girl to bring them into the fold. Due to the lack of formality, the group is comfortable with individuals outside of their base claiming to be Guerrilla Girls; Guerrilla Girl 1 stated in a 2007 interview: "It can only enhance us by having people of power who have been given credit for being a Girl, even if they were never a Girl." Men are not allowed to become Guerrilla Girls, but may support the group by assisting in promotional activities.
Guerrilla Girls names are pseudonyms generally based on dead female artists. Members goes by names such as Kathe Kollwitz, Alma Thomas, Rosalba Carriera, Frida Kahlo, Julia de Burgos, and Hannah Höch. Guerrilla Girls' "Carriera" is credited with the idea of using pseudonyms as ways to not forget female artists. Having read about Rosalba Carriera in a footnote of Letters on Cézanne by Rainer Maria Rilke, she decided to pay tribute to the little-known female artist with her name. This also helped to solve the problem of media interviews; the group was often interviewed by phone and would not give names, causing problems and confusion amongst the group and the media. Guerrilla Girl 1 joined in the late 1980s, taking on her name as a way to memorialize women in the art community who have fallen under the radar and did not make as notable as an impact as the names takes on by other members.
The idea to adopt the gorilla as the group's symbol stemmed from a spelling error. One of the first Guerrilla Girls accidentally spelled the group's name at a meeting as "gorilla." Despite the fact that the idea of using a gorilla as group symbol might have been accidental, the choice is nevertheless pertinent to the group's overall message in several key ways.
To begin with, the gorilla in popular culture and media is often associated with King Kong, or other images of trapped and tamed apes. In the 2010 SAIC Commencement, the comparison between institutionalized artists and tamed apes was explicitly made:
And last, but not least, be a great ape. In 1917, Franz Kafka wrote a short story titled A Report to An Academy, in which an ape spoke about what it was like to be taken into captivity by a bunch of educated, intellectual types. The published story ends with the ape tamed and broken by the stultified academics. But in an earlier draft, Kafka tells a different story. The ape ends his report by instructing other apes NOT to allow themselves to be tamed. He says instead: break the bars of your cages, bite a hole through them, squeeze through an opening…and ask yourself where do YOU want to go 
The gorilla is also typically associated with masculinity. The Met. Museum poster is in part shocking because of its juxtaposition of the eroticized female odalisque body, and the large, snarling gorilla head. The addition of the head detracts from the male gaze and changes the way in which viewers are able to look at or understand the highly sexualized image. Further, the addition of the gorilla questions and modifies stereotypical notions of female beauty within Western art and popular culture, another stated goal of the Guerrilla Girls.
Guerrilla Girls, who wear the masks of big, hairy, powerful jungle creatures whose beauty is hardly conventional […] believe all animals, large and small, are beautiful in their own way.
Though this goal has never been explicitly stated by the group, it is also helpful to note that in the history of Western art primates have often been associated with the visual arts, and with the figure of the artist. The idea of ars simia naturae ("art the ape of nature") maintains that the job of art is to "ape", or faithfully copy and represent, nature. This was an idea fist popularized by Renaissance thinker Giovanni Boccaccio who alleged that "the artist in imitating nature only follows Nature's own command." The Guerrilla Girls' critique of art institutions mainly centers on the fact that there are fewer female subjects and artists represented in major art collections, a fact which is not at all reflective of the world's overall population. Ignoring women artists or artists of color cannot be seen as ars simia naturae, a fact that the ape image, whether intentionally or not, calls attention to.
- Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
- Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
- Tate, United Kingdom
- Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
- The Night the Palladium Apologized, 1985, Palladium, New York, New York
- Guerrilla Girls Review the Whitney, 1987, The Clocktower, New York, New York
- Guerrilla Girls Printed Matter, 1995, 77 Wooster Street, SoHo 
- Guerrilla Girls: Exposición Retrospectiva, 2013, Alhóndiga Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain
- Media Networks: Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girls, (display), 2016, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
- Guerrilla Girls: Not Ready to Make Nice, 30 Years and Still Counting, Abron Arts Center, New York, New York
- Art at the Center: Guerrilla Girls, 2016, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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- Birth of Feminism Banner
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- Official website
- The Feminist Future: Guerrilla Girls a video from a talk presented at the Museum of Modern Art.
- Guerrilla Girls, Brooklyn Museum's Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
- Guerilla Girls records, Getty Research Institute