Over 35 years ago, a group of anonymous women artists and activists began a campaign to spread information and create awareness around racial and gender iniquities in the art world. Calling themselves “Guerrilla Girls” after the style of warfare that uses military tactics like ambushes, sabotages, and hit-and-run gambits, the art collective armed themselves with facts and statistics to challenge the hegemony of the art establishment, taking aim at art museums and galleries, and the people who run and support them. Their art and activism took the form of wheatpaste posters, stickers, and other projects that papered New York City’s streets, subways, and the facades of its most famous art museums with information about the systematic exclusion of women artists and artists of color from collections, criticism, and exposure. Since 1985, the group has completed over 100 street projects, posters, and stickers all over the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Mexico City, Istanbul, London, Bilbao, Rotterdam, and Shanghai. Their guerrilla approach to presenting information is disruptive, provocative, and at times, confrontational. The success of the Guerrilla Girls’ method is in the way they distill information down to easily digestible graphics and figures. A simple message, bold graphics, and hard facts and figures: this is how the Guerrilla Girls grab their viewers’ attention and create awareness around such critical issues as the number of women artists represented in the gallery system or artists of color in permanent collections.
While progress has been made since the Guerrilla Girls’ first poster project in 1985, their work remains as important and relevant as ever, especially at a time when museums across the country are reexamining their role as gatekeepers of culture and implementing programs supporting diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. To highlight the work of the Guerrilla Girls and explore alternative ways to display the Nasher Collection, Associate Curator Dr. Leigh Arnold organized Guerrilla Girls: Takeover, a three-month-long online exhibition in the form of a dynamic digital content overlay on the Nasher Sculpture Center website, featuring selections from the Guerrilla Girls’ Portfolio Compleat 1985-2012 with Upgrade 2012-2016 (accessioned 2017). Employing a digital variation of the art collective’s method of "culture jamming", the Nasher has “papered” its website with images and videos from the Guerrilla Girls’ Portfolio. Visitors to the site can view and access a large selection of the Portfolio’s 110 poster projects in digital form—either on this webpage or while navigating other parts of the Nasher website, with images presenting as common intrusive online display advertising techniques, such as pop-up windows, “ads” of Guerrilla Girls’ images, and embedded videos. The result is a new and dynamic way to display art digitally in a manner true to the Guerrilla Girls’ method of confronting us with knowledge so we can all actively participate in the pursuit of progress.
Who are the Guerrilla Girls?
The Guerrilla Girls is a group of women artists active since 1985 who highlight gender and racial discrimination in the art world. Early in the group’s formation, they focused their efforts in New York City, but in the years since they have developed worldwide projects, exhibitions, and demonstrations. The group members are anonymous and conceal their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public and by assuming pseudonyms taken from such famous female figures as artists Frida Kahlo (1907–54), Hannah Höch (1889–1978), and Käthe Kollwitz (1891–1940). The Guerrilla Girls formed as a reaction to the 1984 exhibition International Survey of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in which work by women artists represented less than 10% of exhibition. The following year, the group began a poster campaign targeting museums, galleries, curators, writers, and artists who they felt were either responsible for or complicit in the exclusion of women and non-white artists from mainstream exhibitions and publications. Since 1985, the group has completed over 100 street projects, posters, and stickers all over the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Mexico City, Istanbul, London, Bilbao, Rotterdam, and Shanghai. The Guerrilla Girls have had retrospective exhibitions in Bilbao (2002), as well as a traveling exhibition that toured the U.S. titled Not Ready to Make Nice: The Guerrilla Girls in the Art World and Beyond (2012-2016). Recent exhibitions include Guerrilla Girls: Not Ready to Make Nice, 30 Years and Still Counting, Abrons Arts Center (2015); Media Networks: Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girls, Tate Modern (2016); Art at the Center: Guerrilla Girls, Walker Art Center (2016); Front Room: Guerrilla Girls, Baltimore Museum of Art (2017); and Guerrilla Girls, The Verge Center for the Arts, Sacramento, CA (2017).
Additional resources on combatting gender and racial inequities