Thirty years ago, a band of anonymous women artists in gorilla masks began raising hell about discrimination, sexism, and racism in the art world and beyond. In celebration of the Guerrilla Girls’ 30th anniversary as an activist art collective, the Walker and a consortium of Twin Cities arts and cultural organizations are pleased to announce the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover, a weeklong festival to be held February 29 through March 6, 2016. Aimed at inspiring individual and collective activism, this project brings together more than 20 local cultural and educational institutions in an unprecedented spirit of partnership and collaboration that also has a strong youth focus. The result will be a multifaceted array of youth-oriented events, museum and gallery installations, public art works and new commissions, as well as public talks and programs for the community across the Twin Cities. (For more info, check out ggtakeover.com.)
In preparation for the Takeover, the Guerrilla Girls will visit the Twin Cities this fall to conduct interactive workshops with more than ten youth and teen programs, as well as students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and St. Catherine University Department of Art and Art History. These workshops and classroom visits will form the basis of the Takeover as well as inform the creation of new art works by the Guerrilla Girls that will respond specifically to issues of concern raised in Minnesota and the Twin Cities and be presented in multiple locations.
On January 21, 2016, and in anticipation of the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover, the Walker will present a monumental wall installation in its collection galleries specifically conceived of and designed by the Guerrilla Girls. Included will be a selection of Guerrilla Girls posters from the Walker’s recently acquired Guerrilla Girls’ archive Portfolio Compleat, a boxed set of 88 posters created by the anonymous female artists between the years 1985, the year of the group’s founding, and 2012. As new posters are created, the Walker’s collection will be updated so as to remain a complete repository of the collective’s posters. This installation forms part of the ongoing exhibition Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, which features prescient acquisitions from the Walker’s collections during its 75th anniversary year. The following posters—some of my personal favorites—represent the breadth of the Guerrilla Girls’ inspiring, activist work over the decades, exposing sexism and racism in politics, the art world, and culture at large.
One of the first posters designed by the Guerrilla Girls, copies of this poster were wheat-pasted on the streets of SoHo in the middle of the night by the masked female artists—a truly guerrilla-style method of distributing their work to mass audiences. The collective first targeted and critiqued male artists who were allowing their work to be shown in galleries that represented fewer than 10 percent female artists. Their early designs combined bold block text with lists and statistics compiled from art magazines and museum reports.
A year after their founding, the Guerrilla Girls began to experiment with color and design. Dearest Art Collector (1986) is their first color poster, which incorporates a hand-written note on pink stationary paper. At this point, the artists were critiquing male artists, New York city art galleries and museums, critics, and, with this poster, collectors. The Guerrilla Girls use humor (read: sarcasm) to convey information, provoke discussion, and show that feminists can be funny.
The Guerrilla Girls’ second attempt to call attention to gender inequities in New York commercial art galleries, Guerrilla Girls’ 1986 Report Cardfollowed their 1985 poster, These Galleries Show No More Than 10% Women Artists Or None At All.
We Sell White Bread was originally designed as a sticker—hundreds of which the Guerrilla Girls adhered to art gallery windows and doors. Like the poster format, stickers could be distributed in a quick and cheap way, for mass distribution and visibility.
One of the Guerrilla Girls’ most reproduced, influential, and recognized posters, The Advantages of Being A Woman Artist uses sarcasm to shed light on inequalities. The poster also appeared as an advertisement in Artforum art magazine.
In 1989, the Guerrilla Girls were commissioned by the Public Art Fund (PAF) in New York to design a billboard to appeal to a general audience. To create the poster, the artists tallied the number of female and male representations in the Metropolitan Museum’s Modern Art collection and combined the results with an appropriated image of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingre’s La Grande Odalisque (1814). At the time, the PAF found the image too revealing and the design was rejected. In true guerrilla warfare-style, the artists rented ad space on New York City buses and ran the poster for a brief period until the bus company similarly removed the posters from circulation.
By the 1990s, the Guerrilla Girls began to expand their critique beyond the art world to include the US government and, in particular, the Republican party. This poster was created for the Republican National Convention in 1992 and singles out the former First Lady Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, first lady at the time.
It’s not clear how they did it, but the Guerrilla Girls compiled Internet data in 1995 and broadcast the statistics in this confrontational poster. This is the year when the Girls launched their first website, and utilized this new mode of communication—the World Wide Web—to reach audiences and expand their reach.
On March 1, 2003, the Guerrilla Girls unveiled this billboard design, which makes a comparison between the Hollywood film industry and the US Senate—two sectors that have astoundingly low female representation. At the time, 14 percent of US Senators were female (the highest percentage in history), but for the top 100 films made in 2002, only 4 percent were directed by women.
Here the Guerrilla Girls use then-US Representative Michele Bachmann’s words to convince Minnesotans to defeat an amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot. While the billboard company was reticent to display the design, it eventually was presented in downtown Minneapolis during the elections. Funds to rent the billboard space were donated by Artists in Storefronts, Cult Status Gallery, and “concerned Minnesotans,” as the Guerrilla Girls claim. Here, the artist collective stands up for same-sex rights, and touches on their future design for Voter ID laws in Minnesota.