Saturday, August 13, 2016

Guerrilla Girls at the Whitechapel Gallery this Autumn

Come October there will be a new artwork in the Whitechapel Gallery in London which expands on the statement created by the Guerrilla Girls - "It's even worse in Europe" - within the original 1986/7 collection of posters.

The contention at the time was that nobody needed any explanation about what was worse in Europe given the main topic of Guerrilla Girl activity!

The 1986 Guerrilla Girls Public Service Message "It's Even Worse in Europe"
The Whitechapel Gallery has commissioned the Guerrilla Girls to create a new artwork as part of an archive display at the Gallery. Following their 1986 poster which states "It’s Even Worse in Europe", the new work will present the results of fresh research based on questionnaires sent to over 400 European museum directors in 2016, including the Whitechapel Gallery.
This is the Guerrilla Girls response
“With this project, we wanted to pose the question ‘Are museums today presenting a diverse history of contemporary art or the history of money and power?’ Our research into this will be presented at Whitechapel Gallery this fall.”

Exhibition:  Guerrilla Girls: Is it even worse in Europe? 

  • Venue: Pat Matthews Gallery (Gallery 4) in the Whitechapel Gallery, 77 – 82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX
  • Dates: 1st October 2016 and continue until 5th March 2017.
  • Admission: Free.
The exhibition will:
  • address relating to the representation of artists in recent exhibitions who are female, gender nonconforming or from Africa, Asia, South Asia and South America. 
  • present new statistics on the state of museums and galleries in Europe.
  • include a broad range of research and production materials which throw light on how the group works. The Guerrilla Girls will give a special public presentation at the Whitechapel Gallery about their 31 years of activist work on 1 October.
In addition there are other events

At the Whitechapel Gallery

  • Artist Talk: Guerrilla Girls on Saturday 1st October, 3pm | £9.50/£7.50 conc - The Guerrilla Girls will present a lecture illustrating their work over the past 31 years, and the work that still needs to be done.
  • Curator's Tour on Thursday 8th December, 6.30pm | Free - Co-curator Nayia Yiakoumaki leads a guided tour exploring the Guerrilla Girls’ exhibition.

At Tate Modern

  • The Guerrilla Girls will also lead a week-long major public project at Tate Modern (4-9 Oct.), as part of Tate Exchange (which opens at the end of September).

Who are the Guerrilla Girls?

They've gone from being the conscience of the art world to cultural icons.

The famous 1989 Poster which the Public Art Fund refused to use on a billboard in New York
and was subsequently banned from NYC buses as being too suggestive

Interestingly Guerrilla Girl posters are now included in the collections of the
New York Public Library and the Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions.
We’re feminist masked avengers in the tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Wonder Woman and Batman.
We undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair.
The Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous, feminist activists was founded in 1985. Each member takes the name of a dead woman artist as a pseudonym and in public their identities are hidden under gorilla masks. Using facts, humour and fake fur, they produce posters, banners, stickers, billboards, projections and other public projects that expose sexism, racism and corruption in art, film, politics and the culture at large.
The idea of the Gorilla masks was that it always keeps the focus off the individuals involved and on the messages they want to promote.
Wikipedia describes them as a group that formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality in the fine arts into focus within the greater community.

Here are some alternative perspectives
Their work is taught in art history classes, they are written about in doctoral dissertations and for years they've been regulars on the college circuit. But that doesn't mean they've removed their masks or lost their bite. Phoebe Hoban, Masks Still in Place, but Firmly in the Mainstream The New York Times
The posters were rude; they named names and they printed statistics 
(and almost always cited the source of those statistics at the bottom, making them difficult to dismiss). They embarrassed people. In other words, they worked. Susan Tallman, Arts Magazine
Allegedly, the group started after the “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984.  The reason given by some (but not the Guerrilla Girls) was that the exhibition "represented the top artists in the world" and of the 169 artists shown in the exhibition, only 13 were women.  However....

  • a reading of the press release for the exhibition clearly indicates that some are "very young, relatively unknown artists who are at the beginning of their careers." 
  • Plus the show was in fact a major one for MoMA since it was the first exhibition following the closure of the Museum for a rebuilding. 
  • It was also seen to be a response to the notion that in its commitment to modern art (ie art of the last 100 years) it had lost a proper regard for the contemporary. Roberta Smith, writing in Art in America said it was the "last chance to make a more substantial commitment to the living.''

I'm left wondering whether this was a cause in search of an exhibition to act as a catalyst - and this was the one that was chosen. Or whether the reason for starting the group was actually nothing to do with this particular exhibition.

You can find out even more about the Guerrilla Girls on their own website The chronology page cites the number of places they've had exhibitions and the number museum collections that now include their artwork!

More articles and a video about the Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla girls MOMA
Guerrilla Girls exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (via Wikipedia)

Whitechapel Gallery Visitor Information

Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm, Thursdays, 11am – 9pm.
Nearest London Underground Station: Aldgate East, Liverpool Street, Tower Gateway DLR.
 T + 44 (0) 20 7522 7888


  1. I had to do a whole module on feminism when studying Social Policy. I penned this as much an exam aide memoir as a sonnet (hope it travels in one piece)

    Empiricist feminists, living the dream,
    Scientifically swim against Malestream.
    Postmodern feminists, some romantic,
    Resist all things thought Androcentric.

    Realist feminists want transformations,
    Of social structures across the nations.
    Feminists surfing in, upon New Waves,
    Resist the masters and free those slaves.

    Ecofeminists, environmental and keen,
    Turn the patriarchy, through envy, green.
    French feminists, and some Anglophones,
    Philosophise, deep in poststructural homes.

    Applying their make-up is most revealing,
    Discarding mirrors, they use glass ceilings.

  2. This looks very exciting, always encouraging to see artists questioning the role of femininity and women in the arts.


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