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25 OCTOBER 2008

How did the Guerrilla Girls come to be?

"In 1985, the Museum of Modern Art opened after a renovation; they opened with a big international show on sculpture. In the show there were, I always forget exact numbers, there were almost 200 artists and there were only 15 women, and there were no artists of colour. That was just so blatant and just so in your face. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the curator then made a statement to the press that anyone who wasn't in the show should rethink his career! And that gave us an idea [Laughs] that there was probably a little bit of discrimination going on here. [Laughs]

So, a group of us went up to the museum and organised a very ordinary kind of protest with placards and chants, and at the end of the day we hadn't really accomplished anything except make a lot of people coming in and out of the museum angry. They really didn't want to hear any kind of questioning of the cultural institution of the museum. That's when we realised that most people think that the art world, or at least at that time most people thought the art world was a meritocracy – that whatever ended up in a museum was the best there was. We were not exactly sure at that point how it all worked, but we knew that there was something wrong. And so a group of us decided that day that we were going to figure out some type of technique to expose it and make people think about the issue. And also participate in a dialogue about it.

That's when we decided to have an anonymous organisation and call ourselves Guerrillas, like freedom fighters, and put up anonymous posters in the middle of the night all over Soho, where the galleries were then, that just stated the facts. We put up posters that went after every sub group of the art world. First, we did the male artists that have shows in galleries that didn't show women, because a lot of them had women in their lives who were artists that weren't given the same opportunities. We went after galleries, we went after critics, we went after directors of museums, and we systematically put every separate group in the art world on alert that we were looking at their records and that they better do some explaining. Of course everyone wanted to say it was somebody else's problem. Artists wanted to say it was the galleries' problem. The galleries wanted to say it was the critics' problem. And the critics said, Oh, no, it's the galleries' fault because they never showed any women? Everyone was passing the buck. And we wanted to put them all on alert that they were all participating consciously or unconsciously in a system that discriminated against women and people of colour. And that the art world, as it existed then, in the mid–80s, did not fairly represent American culture."


activismartdiscriminationfeminism • freedom fighters • Guerrilla GirlsmediaMoMAprotest


Simon Perkins

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