Famed for their provocative posters the Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of feminist art activists who have been campaigning for a democratic art world since 1985. Their many thousands of posters and stickers have made their way from stealth street projects to exhibitions and museums worldwide; you’ll even find their punchy slogans printed onto homeware and T-shirts in the Tate and Saatchi gift shop.
There is something tongue-in-cheek about finding their fierce words in these spaces because it’s often large art institutions that come under fire in their artworks. Though the occupation of these spaces may appear to be great progress, after over 30 years of activism, the picture is still pretty grim.
In a recent interview on the Stephen Colbert Show, the Guerrilla Girls confirmed that when they launched in 1985 the Guggenheim, Metropolitan and Whitney museums had never had a woman solo show and the Modern had exhibited just one. 30 years on, this number had risen by precisely one additional show per museum taking the Guggenheim, Metropolitan and Whitney to one and the Modern to a heady two!
Why THIS art?
Public museums are places we go to learn about our culture, to educate our children and inspire ourselves. When we know the population to be a broad 50% split between men and women, is it right that only around 3- 5% of the art in our public spaces represents female artists’ contribution to culture?
As Frida of Guerrilla Girls explains to Stephen Colbert, “Every aesthetic decision has a value behind it. If all the aesthetic decisions are being made by the same people, the art will never look like the whole of our culture”
So, next time you visit a museum, ask yourself, why am I being shown this art in particular? As we know, it's the winners who write history. Frida points out, “Unless all the voices of our culture are in the history of art, it’s not really a history of art, it’s a history of power.”
A Few Cold Facts… brrr
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only museum in the world dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women artists. In a recent fact finding mission, they discovered some disappointing truths.
Work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe and 34% in Australian state museums.
Of 590 major exhibitions by nearly 70 institutions in the U.S. from 2007–2013, only 27% were devoted to women artists.
The top three museums in the world, the British Museum (est. 1753), the Louvre (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (est. 1870) have never had female directors.
Only five women made the list of the top 100 artists by cumulative auction value between 2011-2016.
In the list of top 100 individual works sold between 2011-2016, only two artists were women. Of those 100 artworks, 75 of them came from just 5 male artists.
Watch this space for our feature on all of our women artists coming up tomorrow for International Women's Day.