Guerrilla Girls

3 White Women, 1 Woman of Color and No Men of Color out of 71 Artists?

1997

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Not on display

Medium
Lithograph on paper and card
Dimensions
Support: 559 × 431 mm
support: 107 × 150 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the North American Acquisitions Committee, Richard S. Hamilton and the Cowles Charitable Trust 2015, accessioned 2021
Reference
P15260

Summary

Guerrilla Girls Portfolio Compleat Update 1991–2012 is a portfolio of works produced between 1991 and 2012 by the anonymous collective of American female artists known as the Guerilla Girls. It contains fifty-four poster projects of variable dimensions – twenty-six black and white offset lithographs on paper and twenty-eight colour digital prints on paper – alongside a printed plastic bag, three sheets of stickers and two issues of the newsletter Hot Flashes from 1994 (vol.1, nos.2 and 3, and vol.1, no.4). The portfolio also includes three books produced between 1998 and 2012 – The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, Bitches Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes and The Guerrilla Girls’ Art Museum Activity Book – as well as their most recent text, The Hysterical Herstory of Hysteria and How It Was Cured, in digital form on compact disc in advance of publication. Two of the black and white prints are accompanied by postcards addressed to Thomas Krens and Margit Rowell – former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and chief curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York respectively – that the public were encouraged to fill in and post as a sign of support for the Guerrilla Girls project. This version of the portfolio has been uniquely compiled for Tate to complement its existing holdings (Guerrilla Girls Talk Back [Tate P78788P78817], a portfolio of thirty posters produced between 1985 and 1990), and each work is an artists’ proof aside from the edition of fifty.

Since their formation in 1984, the Guerrilla Girls have fought to expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world. Conceived as a response to the International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture exhibition held in the same year at the Museum of Modern Art, New York – a survey show of 169 artists which, despite claiming to showcase the very best of contemporary art practice, included the work of only thirteen females and no artist from outside Europe or the United States – the group conceal their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public and by adopting pseudonyms taken from such important deceased female figures as the writer Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) and the artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986).

Describing themselves as ‘the conscience of the art world’, the Guerrilla Girls began with a poster campaign that responded to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition in 1984, targeting the institutions, dealers, art critics and artists who they felt were responsible for – if not silently complicit in – the exclusion of women and non-white artists from mainstream artistic circles (Chadwick and Guerrilla Girls 1995, p.15.) Tacked up around the streets of SoHo under the cover of darkness, their posters shamed commercial galleries showing few or no women artists (see [no title] 1985–90, Tate P78808), and questioned the morality of the city’s most renowned institutions, asking ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ (see [no title] 1985–90, Tate P78793).

In the same way that artists such as Jenny Holzer (born 1950) and Barbara Kruger (born 1945) turned to mass media techniques in the 1980s, the Guerrilla Girls also appropriated advertising strategies – and the practice of fly-posting in particular – to disseminate their messages quickly and easily to a wide audience. Containing information compiled from museum reports and magazine articles, their posters arrange stark statistics into bold graphics and eye-catching lists, designed for maximum impact in the public sphere. Whilst each project is grounded in data and research, wit and irony are also used as strategies through which to draw attention to what they see as the inadequacies of the art world and the hypocrisies and double standards of those in positions of power. Speaking about their use of humour, the group have said: ‘We’ve discovered that ridicule and humiliation, backed up by irrefutable information, can disarm the powers that be, put them on the spot, and force them to examine themselves.’ (Guerrilla Girls, ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, http://www.guerrillagirls.com/interview/faq.shtml, paragraph 24, accessed 29 September 2014.)

Whilst the group are perhaps best known for their campaigns confronting gender and racial discriminations in the art world, they have long addressed inequalities of a political and social nature. The group have said: ‘Almost from the beginning, we did campaigns about homelessness, abortion, and war, among many other issues. We’ve never been systematic, we just go after one target after another.’ (Ibid, paragraph 30.) Compiled of works produced between 1991 and 2012, Guerrilla Girls Portfolio Compleat Update tackles a wide range of social injustices, highlighting intolerance of sexual orientation (Supreme Court Justice Supports Right To Privacy For Gays And Lesbians 1992, P15248), disproportions in museum pay (MoMA Mia!!! 13 Years And We're Still Counting 1997, P15261) and political election propaganda (Republicans Do Believe In A Woman's Right To Control Her Own Body 1992, P15242) alongside inequality at the Oscars Awards (Anatomically Correct Oscar Billboard 2002, P15271) and the Venice Biennale (Where Are The Women Artists Of Venice? 2005, P15276). Dear Art Collector 2007 (Tate L03724), which critiques the absence of art by women in private collections, demonstrates the group’s acute understanding of the vagaries of the art market when translated into Greek and Chinese (Tate L03725–L03726), whilst Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? Update 2012 (Tate L03735) – a repurposing of the iconic poster of 1985 (Tate P78793) – reinforces the Guerrilla Girls’ campaign for justice and equality as an ongoing one.

Whilst posters pasted onto the streets of New York have been the mainstay of the Guerrilla Girls activities, some of the works in Portfolio Compleat demonstrate the variety of tactics they have used to disseminate their so-called ‘public service messages’ across cities and countries. Sheets of stickers such as As Good As It Gets? 1998 (Tate L03706), In This Theatre 1998 (Tate L03707) and Sundance Stickers 2001 (Tate L03712) turn individuals into mobile billboards – allowing them to take ownership of political and social causes by affixing slogans and graphics to themselves – whilst 10 Trashy Ideas About The Environment 1994 (Tate L03698) shames anti-environmentalist clichés via a (humorously green-coloured) plastic carrier bag.

Further reading
Whitney Chadwick, Guerrilla Girls, Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, New York 1995.
Guerrilla Girls, ‘2009 Guerilla Girls Frequently Asked Questions’, https://www.guerrillagirls.com/2009faqs/?rq=faq, accessed 29 September 2014.
Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz, ‘Transgressive Techniques of the Guerrilla Girls’, Getty Research Journal, no.2, 2010, pp.203–8.

Hannah Johnston
September 2014

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