Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum?
The Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of activist artists who expose dynamics of exclusion in the art world. They started in 1984, and have since then received much attention for their feminist interventions. They use the visual language of advertisements to create awareness of the double standards that art institutions often uphold. With a combination of humor and statistics, the Guerrilla Girls infiltrate the art world and call museums out for discrimination. All members of the collective wear gorilla masks, and use names of deceased female artists such as Frida Kahlo and Zubeida Agha to remain anonymous and keep focus on the issues for which they struggle.
Scroll down to discover a selection of their work.
The original version of this poster was created by the Guerrilla Girls in 1989, when they were asked to design a billboard for the Public Art Fund in New York City. The poster depicts an image of the canonical work Grande Odalisque, a painting by the French Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres dating from 1814. At the time, the painting caused much controversy because the nude woman depicted in the painting was not a symbol or reference to mythology, but a nude woman ‘to be looked at’. The Guerrilla Girls modified the original female figure with their signature trademark, the gorilla mask. The picture is accompanied by the shocking statistics of their investigation of the artworks in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For an in-depth analysis on The Grande Odalisque and how it caused much controversy in its time (interesting fact: the painting was commissioned by a woman), see our In Conversation With article about the artwork.
The work of the Guerrilla Girls, and this poster in particular, demonstrates two important debates about representation in the art world: the question of who is represented, and how this representation takes shape. Based on their investigation of the artworks on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Guerrilla Girls exposed the severe underrepresentation of female artists in such leading art institutions. Here, representation thus concerns the lack of presence of female artists. The poster also addresses a second understanding of representation, which is the symbolical level: the question of how human figures are represented and what meanings this conveys.
© Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum?, 2012, courtesy guerrillagirls.com
Guerrilla Girls, Wealth & Power
This poster called ‘Wealth & Power’ from 2016 urges museums to display a diverse collection of artworks that represents a diverse society. Museums hold a position of power, as their exhibitions and collections are a reflection of ideas on what art, cultures and histories are considered important and worth preserving. As the Guerrilla Girls point out here, this position of power is partly connected to a capitalist system and a tradition of ‘canonization’ in which certain art is considered economically valuable, and therefore deemed worth exhibiting. With Wealth & Power, the Guerrilla Girls criticize museums that refrain from looking at their collections critically and press the need for museums to become aware of their blind spots.
© Guerrilla Girls, Wealth & Power, 2016, courtesy guerrillagirls.com
Guerrilla Girls, You're Seeing Less than Half the Picture.
Initially, the activism of the Guerrilla Girls mostly focused on exposing sexism in the art world. Over time, they also started addressing racism as an important form of exclusion in this context. In 1989 the Guerrilla Girls designed You’re Seeing Less than Half the Picture, to address how substantial perspectives go missing when museums exclude the work of women artists and artists of color.
This poster can be seen as part of a larger and still ongoing discussion on structures of exclusion in the art world, in which there is increasingly attention for mechanisms of exclusion based on ‘race’, ability, class, sexuality, etc. and how these are interconnected. What started with a focus on gender-based discrimination, is slowly expanding into a more comprehensive understanding of the way in which structures of power are at play in the arts. However, this is an ongoing struggle that is continuously in development.
© Guerrilla Girls, You’re Seeing Less than Half the Picture, 1989, courtesy guerrillagirls.com
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 1972.
Buikema, Rosemarie and Iris van der Tuin, eds. Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009.