Two Part Review: Guerilla Girls (Part Two)

8 mins read

Continued from previous post…

One slide displayed a bunch of statistics. They were alarming: Most museums’ inventories are over 90% male-produced. This gets to the heart of things, doesn’t it? Guys are still in charge, and women are still more interested.

Actually, that last part wasn’t brought up, for I infer it all the time. E.g., the audience here was mostly female, and I find that the audiences of most art-related lectures I attend are. In writing and literature and art and art-history classes I have taken and taught, the majority of attendees is always female. And the numbers in publication don’t show this.

But over 90%? I doubt that. The GGs love shock value. I’d go so far as to say they cannot separate shock from artistry. Nowhere on this slide of numbers were the types of museums listed. Types are important because museums of the types not concerned with the contemporary exist to preserve the past. They must be accurate, not fair. And even contemporary art museums usually have a timeline that includes the part of our past that was much more sexist than now.

I visited a few museums during my srping break. They were in Berlin, and displaying art from the 1900s to the 1940s (very important years for Modernism, Dadaism, Expressionism, The Bauhaus, and cinema), and ancient Egyptian and Roman artifacts. The only female artist represented in my selection was Lotte Lasterstein, a Modernist painter whose relevance, according to the Neue Nationalgalerie, is only now being seriously evaluated. The painting I saw of hers, “Abend über Potsdam,” had a whole room to itself.

Should I be offended by the curators’ choices to display 90-100% male-created artworks? I don’t think so. Should I be offended by our own past? Yes, partially. Should I be inspired to rise above it? Of course.

The last contemporary art museum I visited was probably the New Museum in New York. Most likely this exhibition was mostly male-created art, and I think it was curated by Jeff Koons, who’s a guy. It wasn’t 90%, though. And the female-made pieces were large and intimidating. I remember Jenny Holzer‘s work. I remember the exhibit I’d seen at this same museum before this one was a three-level solo show by Elizabeth Peyton. And I remember not being able to get into the MoMa because Maria Abramovic was there.

One of the most annoying things about the GGs’ lecture was their refusal to mention names. During the Q & A they said this was a rule. They didn’t want to look like they were backing certain female artists and not others.

The Guerilla Girls are out of touch, and seem smug about this, even if their art depends on up-to-the-moment accuracy. Slides included pictures of girls wearing scrunchies, high-waisted shorts and burgundy lipstick (from when these were popular the first time around). For a hypothetical movie poster, they used actresses Pamela Anderson, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Hallie Berry. The young audience murmured. I couldn’t remember that last time I’d heard the name “Catherine Zeta Jones” said aloud.

The very act of creating a movement based on inequality seems at this point farcical, especially in the art world. This movement becomes part of its world, and it must, if it is successful, fall off the map and into history. It must not continue to complain of the same underrepresentation when it is itself being so prominently represented (in text books, museums, etc.).

This is why my students cringe at the word “feminism,” I now understand. “Feminists” are these ladies: feigning surprise to see a male audience member volunteer to dress up and play a female reporter in a skit. A guy, at a feminist lecture? Wow! A guy who’s into confident girls and who had a chance to show this huge lecture hall full of them who he is? What an oddity!

If only the GGs would wake up and notice that girls are well on their way, and using different means than expected, which is much more exciting than if we had chosen the beaten paths of our brothers. And jocks are more and more okay with gay people, and interracial marriages aren’t such a big deal, and lesbianism is not an act of subversion, and art is not always gendered, and you don’t have to hide behind a mask, because everyone wears an avatar on this new thing called the web anyway.

One thing most of us female artists have shied away from is marginalization. No one wants to be “a female author,” do they? Do you think George Eliot wished she could have been known as one? We’d all rather be called “authors.” That’s why this message, and the kind of elitist inside-joking of this lecture seems counter-intuitive.

Yes, we’re females, and we have been underrepresented. Yes, boys’ clubs still exist, and it is their self-righteous, self-assured, nepotististic, conservational attitudes that make their relationships to the art world sexist. Things are changing, though, and it’s the women who don’t recognize this that abuse the word “feminism” to the point of its annihilation.

I’m all for complaining (obviously), but to stand up in black masks and encourage young women to chuckle with, not at, artistic injustice? To find comfort in the constants of inequality? To create a sort of girls’ club that not only disassociates itself from the world it criticizes, but pays almost no attention to aesthetics and historical implications (which is… art?) and creates a structure in which the agitator gets to hide, both literally (the costumes) and figuratively (the no-naming rule) in anonymity, but simultaneously gets to claim gender?

I mean, I thought we’d come much further than this. Am I wrong, or did these ladies just stop reading?

-Natasha Stagg