The art world is a wild and crazy place, full of mammoth sculptures, beautiful oil paintings, and thought – provoking installations, explains a chapter in The Book of Bizarre Truths. In most of the world’s museums, the majority of the art on display is created by and about men.
Manhattan is considered one of the most dynamic areas on the planet. This was especially true in the 1980s, an era of Reaganomics, cheap rent, AIDS, punk rock, and a boundary – breaking art scene. Performance artists were blurring the lines and causing a stir.
One group causing a stir was founded in 1985 and called themselves the Guerilla Girls. The development of their all – female, politically charged posse was born out of the indignation they felt upon seeing an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. Only 13 of the 169 artists represented at the show were women, and all of the artists were white Europeans or white Americans.
Some were outraged at this clear display of discrimination and this group of anonymous females swore they would “reinvent the F word: feminism.”
The women knew they’d have to be smart bout bringing attention to the issue. Since the art world is rather small – and many of the Guerilla Girls were themselves artists – they decided to act anonymously. They figured getting shunned for their activism wouldn’t help get more female artists into galleries. The group wanted the public to focus on their message, not who they were as individuals.
The term “guerilla” was a reference to guerrilla warfare. They solved the anonymity problem by wearing big, hairy gorilla masks in public. And they were in the public a lot. Sometimes they wore fishnet stockings and high heels.
The group hung posters on city buses and in subway stations. The Guerilla Girl Website tells the story behind one of their most famous posters: “One Sunday morning we conducted a ‘weenie count’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, comparing the number of nude males to nude females in the artwork on display. The results were ‘revealing.’”
The poster shows a classic sculpture of a nude woman but with a gorilla mask in place of her head. The headline read, “Do women have to be nude to get into the Met Museum?” Underneath is the explanation, “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”
Another poster, plastered around NYC’s fashionable SoHo neighborhood, listed the names of 20 local art galleries under the headline, “These galleries show no more than 10% women artists or none at all.”
Although heavy – handed, the Guerilla Girls’ message was also a lot of fun, both for the women involved and for the public. By poking fun at the system that ignored or repressed them, they were able to take some of the power out of it. They also found that humor was a good way to get people involved.
Whether you loved them or hated them, it was almost impossible to ignore the Guerilla Girls. Today their message continues to spread, extending beyond the Manhattan art scene. Guerilla Girl posters can be found worldwide, there are Guerilla Girl books, and the group continues to give lectures at museums and schools – even in some of the places they previously targeted.
Keep Going on Your New Years Resolutions: Write down one thing you’re grateful for every night. When you end the night with gratitude, you’ll feel better when you lay your head on your own on your pillow.
Support A Local Guymon Artist: On Oct. 31 from 10 am to 2 pm at the Urban Bru Kitchen, 118 NW 6th Street in Guymon, and watch Kari Jauregui do a watercolor painting in honor of Dia de los Muertus. The painting is then to be donated to the Alma Folklorica Dance Troupe, who will be at the benefit painting in masks and doing a few dances. All are welcome to come and view Juaregui’s work that is hanging at the Kitchen now.
See you on the bricks soon!