Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond

Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond at the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University, San Bernardino. Photo Credit Jacqueline Bell Johnson

Heros of the Past and Present

Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond

Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University, San Bernardino

By Jacqueline Bell Johnson

 

The Guerrilla Girls are often thought of affectionately, like a childhood hero, for artists interested in performance, activism, and of course, feminism.  This nostalgia implies that they are gone and no longer making work or maybe they are a thing of the past.  Not so, as this exhibition staunchly demonstrates. It is us who has forgotten.

Starting in the late ‘80’s the Guerrilla Girls were a group of women artists that in the guise of gorillas and in the middle of the night would hang graphics and banners to call out art institutions in their bad habits of collecting and showing almost exclusively, men.

The movement grew to include more legal means of public display: billboards, protests, rallies, and panel talks.  They presented statistics to back up their claims: indisputable and un-ignorable findings. They also used popping bright colors, bold fonts, aggressive to-the-point language, and the intriguing double-take causing (and rather punk) image of a female body with a gorilla head.

Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond at the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University, San Bernardino. Photo Credit Jacqueline Bell Johnson

This image quickly became an icon and was an ingenious strategy.  The anonymity the guerilla image afforded the collective made the focus about the topic at hand, preventing scrutiny, objectification (sexual or otherwise), and other types of personal attacks often brought against women who speak up and speak out.  This disguise gave them “mask-ulinity,” as it were.1

So why have we forgotten about the Guerilla Girls as a contemporary and active group?  Several reasons: their presence internationally meant less activity here in the states, they have published several books, and as the group grew in numbers and popularity, turmoil rose among the members.  This led to a lawsuit resulting in reorganization of how things operate.

Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond at the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University, San Bernardino. Photo Credit Jacqueline Bell Johnson

 

This exhibition itself presents actual size graphics displayed in the States and internationally to call out the institutions for their one-sided stats.  Featuring a series of corridors and corners, you are overwhelmed by the signage, even dwarfed by it.  That is the point of such graphics.  They need to be big, eye catching, and quick for them to be effective.  For women viewing the show, the size of the works placed in this space leads to a sense of validation of personal experience.  It is well known the art industry underrepresents those that are not white male and this has been a leading topic by the Guerilla Girls.  However, as the exhibition shows, they have expanded to cover politics (Estrogen Bomb), the entertainment industry (Unchain the Women Directors), and human rights (Missing in Action).

Some of their classic works are on view, those you would recognize from art history textbooks, with updated numbers, and several walls replicating those early days in NYC when they were posting with wheat paste in the middle of the night.

Included is the interactive work Love/Hate Letters, which gives viewers the chance to directly communicate with the Guerilla Girls.  They broke the ice by posting some previously received letters (this piece has been ongoing since the eighties).

This article is the first installment in a two-part series on the Guerilla Girls.  Part two will feature an interview with the Guerilla Girls themselves.

1 The word “mask-ulinity” originally appeared in an interview in the Guerilla Girls first book, Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, published in 1995.

Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond
Feb. 11 – May 20, 2017

 

Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art
5500 University Pkwy, San Bernardino, California 92407
http://museum.csusb.edu/

 

General Admission: Free
Suggested donation: $3
Parking: $6

Upcoming: A Conversation with the Guerilla Girls

April 13th 6-8pm

https://www.facebook.com/events/243049106106407/

(Reservations Recommended)

 

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