Guerrilla Girls Public Talk at Smith College

by Ivy Vance

Presented in conjunction with the current exhibition Women’s Work: Feminist Art from the Collection at the Smith College Museum of Art in collaboration with the student group Feminists of Smith, the Guerrilla Girls gave a public talk about their creative practice and activism in the art world last Thursday at Smith College. The feminist activist group got their start in 1985 by printing and pasting posters in Chelsea that exposed the disparities between men and women artists in New York City. What started as a critique of the New York art scene has evolved in the last 30 years into a complete assessment of the global art market.Guerrilla Girls Smith public talk

The artists entered Sage Hall from the back, donned in black dresses and gorilla masks, handing out bananas to audience members before they took the stage. This is one of the many humorous tactics the Guerrilla Girls use in their practice to draw attention and to make people laugh before delivering the hard facts. Once on the stage they introduced themselves with their pseudonyms in order to keep full anonymity, another important aspect of the group’s political practice. These pseudonyms, as they explained, are taken from dead, female artists such as: Frida Kahlo, Hannah Höch, and Kathe Kollwitz. They believe that the most effective way to deliver their message is to avoid the cult of celebrity and keep their identities anonymous.

The two women, one a founding member and the other a younger convert, took the audience through a full biographic timeline of the group’s formation and their past and current projects. The presiding sentiment throughout their talk was their roll as the “conscience of the art world.” All of their projects bring to light the disparity between male and female artists through facts, figures, and humor. They showed work from 1985 that was solely posted on brick walls and mailboxes to their participation in the 2005 Venice Biennale. This brought up the fraught question: what happens when the very system you have been attacking embraces you? Their answer to this was creating a set of large-scale posters specific to issues in Venetian museums, namely that of the 1,238 artworks on view in major institutions, fewer than 40 are by women. These works along with many others have successfully brought a voice to discrepancies that are rampant in the art world.

The Guerrilla Girls showed many examples of their work, which has branched out beyond the art world into the realm of politics, supporting the women’s health and LGBTQ rights. They continue to create and update their critiques of the institution of art, populate rallies, and support the feminist cause. This year they are celebrating 30 years of guerrilla actions by and for women artists.

Ivy Vance 13F is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Curatorial Practice.

This post is the first in a series of essays, opinions, and reviews written by students, faculty, and staff of the Institute for Curatorial Practice.

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