© Guerrilla Girls. Courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com
For nearly thirty years, artist activists The Guerilla Girls have been a thorn in the side of the art establishment, working methodically, humorously and anonymously to cast light on the dismal fortunes of women and minority artists. Two of the groups’ founding members, Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, guided Utah audiences through the Guerrilla Girls story on a three-day tour of Utah that included standing room only performances at Weber State, Utah Valley University and the University of Utah. Keeping with their trademark anonymity, Kahlo and Kollwitz wore gorilla masks throughout the presentation, which began with them offering audience members bananas as they walked toward the stage. The presentation proceeded with the group’s iconic humor as they recounted their exploits.
While certain things have improved for women and minority artists since the Guerrilla Girls first formed, in protest of a male-dominated exhibition of contemporary art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1985, the group’s ongoing work continues to show the disparities of opportunity and recognition in the art world. Major art institutions have yet to balance their scales in terms of gender representation equally. I was shocked, for instance, to hear that the number of modern and contemporary female artists shown at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has barely changed since 1989’s “weenie count.”
The biggest change for the Guerrilla Girls, they explained, was not the equal recognition of artists, but of their own fame and success, a situation that has brought them right into the institutions they were criticizing. “What’s a girl to do?” asked Kollwitz. Much of the group’s work investigates the corruption of art museum culture. Rather than rejecting their success in the art world, the Guerrilla Girls, (well, most of them), embraced it, finding new and interesting strategies of critique from within.
Though they called for more activism within art communities, Kahlo encouraged listeners to form their own resistance and not get caught up with trying to be a Guerrilla Girl. They ended their presentation with a manifesto of sorts, their own “Guerrilla Girls Guide to Behaving Badly,” in which the two advocated for humor, cheap art practices, anonymity and persistence. Oh, and don’t be afraid of that “F” word either.