Throughout art historians discussions of modern artwork, no publication is complete without mention of the feminist coalition of artists known as the "Guerilla Girls". Until recent "revolutions", in art history numerous modern textbooks make reference to the struggle for recognition of female artists in an androcentric gender stratified art world. Fortunately for female artists in 1985 female artists decided to unite in New York city and echo the outrage of this oppression and turn it into action. During an exhibition at the "New York City" Museum of Modern Art in 1985 known as An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture, the aesthetic evolved into a locus for feminine protest. On this day a new political movement was formed, that of the women artist. When more female artists donned guerilla masks at the museum than women whose artwork was on display, a mere "thirteen" of one hundred and sixty-nine artists, the Guerilla Girls were born.
The political and social action of these young ladies who stood for female artistic expression was aptly assigned the name of the Guerilla Girls. Oddly enough these "nomenclatures" cause the feminist mind to think about the girl to women relationship found within society, and evaluate the feminist struggle to be seen as a woman and not a girl. A "quizzical" feminist was not the only goal of the groups’ name, but according to the Guerilla with the pseudonym Georgia "O'Keeffe":
"We wanted to play with the fear of guerrilla warfare, to make people afraid of who we
might be and where we would strike next." 1
From these early expressions of founding females, the rich and lively twenty year history of the Guerilla Girls was given a sound platform for expression. The expression of the Guerilla Girls was not merely a result of their political and social protests but also the artwork that illustrates this outrage. Several notable examples of this organized art will be discussed shortly. Due to the socio-political aspects of the groups work, the majority of this artwork has been found on posters and "billboards" splattered across metropolitan areas.
To ensure ones understanding of the strong message being sent by these female artists, it is necessary to provide an example of the art that illustrates their outrage. I have only been able to obtain one "relic" poster from the original protest at the "Palladium" in 1985, the title Want To Earn Big Money In The Art World1 aptly reflects the lack of economic equality amongst female artists. Although no image of a female appears in this work, the feminist criticism within the piece is unavoidable. By clearly stating the economic hardships of female artists in text the lack of economic freedom for female artists is clear to one who comprehends the "symbols" of the English language. The ominous presence of a male figure, George Washington, on the male two-thirds of the bill, creates an ironic effect and shows a clear division of labor regardless of literacy. With a succent presentation of subject reinforced by bold text the poster addressed a specific issue and educated the public regarding feminist issues in the art world. According to an anonymous interview from "Confessions" of A Guerrilla Girl the artistic intent was not only to educate but create action from female artists across the world by enticing their anger toward inequality.
Once this feminist support was turned into action as a result of the Guerilla Girls’ original protest, their social-political message gained momentum and escalated into many rallies, protests and exhibits with plenty of facts, humor and fake fur. Not only did the guerilla Girls uphold their constitutional right to peaceful assembly to convey their message, but they extended into public advertisement to extend their message to the general public. A notable example of the infiltration of the Guerilla Girls political message into the eye of the public is found in the extension of artwork into "massive" public billboards. Shortly following their initiating protest in New York City, and being rejected once again by the New York City Museum of Modern Art, the Guerilla Girls began renting out billboard advertisement space on public busses.
In the textbook Exploring Art a photograph of the notorious How Women Get Maximum Exposure In Art Museums2 was used to illustrate the feminist critique in art history! Comparing these anonymous artists with famous twentieth century artist, Hung Liu, from the Song Dynasty, the authors’ Lazzari and Schlesier immortalize the Guerilla Girls’ efforts in art history. Once again the simplistic, succinct style from their original 1985 protest is pervasive in their artistic message on exposure of women in museums. The billboard bluntly states that although only five percent of art on display was produced by female artists, eighty-five percent of the nude portraits are of female bodies. By displaying a symbolic representation of the famous nude image the Odalisque by male painter Ingres, the girls once again incorporate an ironic twist within their political message. The "satire" utilized in this billboard comes from the suggestive nature of the reclined female image as an object in "juxtaposition" to the message bing conveyed. Perhaps this was intended to illicit the attention of men who would not otherwise entertain the thought of women as professional artists.
The primary intent of the Guerilla Girls artistic social-political commentary was to enlighten the average American toward the "plight" of female artists. Despite this simple goal, these aspiring artists could not limit their commentary and extend their activism into racial equality. This was accomplished by specifically addressing the problem of racism in the art world as a reflection of racism in society as a whole. Although racial commentary was not their original intent, the group elicited political momentum in the suppression of minority artists. Through their unique, succent style their 1989 poster When "Sexism" & Racism Are No Longer Fashionable, What Will Your Art Collection be Worth?3 accidentally extendedsexism2.shtml the Guerilla Girls beyond femminitst into racial activists.
According to some art historians the Girls now addressed "graphically and statistically documented sexism and "racism" in New York galleries and museums."2Unique to this particular piece is the lack of "anonimity" that had been pervasive to not just the members of the Guerilla Girls but to the subjects of their artwork as well. A personal effect is created by removing this anonimity and printing the names of nearly seventy female and minority artists, the viewer feels a connection with these artists who must "strive to survive". Comprised entirely of text, one might debate the artistic Merritt of this piece due to the lack of medium and abundance of text. Regardless of which side of the debate one may take, artistic worth has been instilled in this text from the aknowledgement of art historians and authors.
Although the Guerilla Girls primary "motivation" was to alter the organization of the art world to acknowledge the accomplishments of female artists, aesthetic recognition was also gained. The numerous examples of their political posters that have acquired the status of historical recognition by achieving positions in the pages of art textbooks show their impact of art history. Despite the lack of visual stimulation and abundance of text, some of their work defies the typical constant of what is art. Yet these pieces are held in high esteem for the impact that has been made on the art world and are found in the pages of books alongside artists such as Monet and Picasso.
From the "pervasive" aknowledgement of the pivotal role played by the Guerilla Girls in feminist criticism of the art world, their artistic abilities have been immortalized. Since their original organized work some twenty years ago, these artistic apes have been gaining political momentum across America and influencing the art world and those inspired by art. Not only has the action instilled by the Guerilla Girls impacted the art world that they belong to but these girls have also re-woven the "tapestry" of art history from the aknowledgement that has been receive. One particular interest regarding these activist artists is the interdisciplinary subject of each piece. Their recognition has created a realm of art that "piques" the interest of ones social and moral mind rather than "aesthetic" interests alone.