Database > Exhibition / Event > Guerilla Girls 1985-2013

Guerilla Girls 1985-2013

03.10.2013 - 19.01.2014

Alhondiga Bilbao, Bilbao / España

Guerilla Girls 1985-2013' is the major retrospective of the work of the Guerilla Girls, the US feminist art group that has become the ‘the conscience of the art world' with its posters and interventions. Nearly all the posters and projects that this group of women have produced, since it was founded in 1985, can be seen on the walls of the AlhóndigaBilbao Exhibition Room. Organised in a chronological sequence, documents are on show alongside these works that generate a 'context' with information on the history and the production processes of the group....

At the intersection between art and activism, Guerrilla Girls are a voice that stands out in the latest stage of the feminist art movement. The movement has focused on savaging the myths that, such as those of ‘artist genius' and ‘masterpiece' underpin a concept of art that is independent from its historical and social context, forged in the 19th century but still current today. Such myths serve to perpetuate the mystification processes of an art that is classified as major or minor depending on the sex – and also on the race – of the artist.
The feminist analysis of art has revealed that the excellence of this major art produced by male artists, who have been credited as geniuses, has been determined as opposed to the secondary value of minor art prepared by female artists.

The Guerrilla Girls artist group embarked on their career halfway through the 1980s against the renewed impetus to those processes and myths during the heyday of Neo-Liberalism. While maintaining their anonymity - its members are hidden behind gorilla masks and take the names of deceased renowned women – the group focuses on the political dimension of its practices, at the same time as it denounces the systematic oblivion that feminine figures suffer in contemporary societies.

The work of Guerrilla Girls, which they themselves define as ‘the conscience of the world of art', is a turning point in the feminist artistic practices for two reasons:
The first is related to the overview that is offered for the first time of the different levels and processes that consolidate sexism in art, without forgetting the connections that those processes maintain, in turn, with other institutions and the social sphere. In fact, they have used the comparison between the position that women occupy in art and the one that they occupy, for example, in politics or the company, to challenge the wide-spread popular belief that the field of art is a ground for the social avant-garde, by highlighting its conservative nature and its perseverance as a bastion of sexism. The group's desire to transcend the in-breeding of the field of art has also driven them to explore neighbouring territories in the cultural production that, such as films, likewise relegate women. In reality, this desire is in response to the activist nature of the group that bases its practices on the fact that art is a social and historical product and that it is the analysis of the material conditions of its production which explains its operating. The defence of this position, which currently still clashes head-on with the art institution, has led them to handle techniques that, such as graphic design and other resources used by advertising, have been widely used in political activism.

The poster, that both the suffragettes and the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s regularly used, is the main medium with which the group has experimented. The iconic posters of Guerrilla Girls are distinguished immediately as they play with aestheticizing statistics, the science of the State. They use the language of statistics, which reflect the reality of women in the field of art and in other spheres, to compare them with the objectives that democratic societies seek to pursue, with a special emphasis on that of equality, by spotlighting their resounding failure when it comes to fulfilling those promises. Those posters, which bring to the forefront the complex interrelation of the agents and the concepts that govern the field of art, are also the basis of their activities, which range from their placement in public spaces, for example, at the entrances to art galleries in New York, to different actions in museums and other social and cultural institutions.
The 1989 poster ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in contemporary art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female' is probably the best known work of the Guerrilla Girls. Its rapid and far-reaching dissemination, along with the other work of the group, made it possible for a whole new generation of feminists in the field of art to learn to 'reckon' with it.

The second reason for considering the work of Guerrilla Girls as a turning point in feminist art is that, at the end of the 1980s, the group marked the end of a strong initial stage of feminist art. That stage began on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 1960s, as part of what is known in the USA as the ‘second wave' of the feminist movement, which ran from the suffragette movement, and what, in Western Europe, keeping the enlightened feminists, is known as the ‘third wave' of feminism. This difference, which responds to two different political traditions, generates two different accounts that represent highly political differences. Furthermore, the prevalence the US feminist scene of the art of those years that in certain artistic and feminist circles of Spain is acquiring often generates an illusion that confuses the US political, social and artistic context with their own.
Despite those differences, the period from the end of the 1960s to the end of the 1980s is noted for the approach of a new common political agenda for the feminism of both continents, which includes the demands for the reproduction and sexual rights of women - which are still a pending matter in most of the planet - and for the recognition of a feminist genealogy that dates back at least to suffragist movement.
During that period in which the inherited knowledge that distorts the image of women or ideologically used to perpetuate male domination and the bloody social inequalities between men and women were reviewed, feminist art worked in multiple directions and areas: on building non-phalocentric iconography in the deconstruction of the different stereotypes and mythologies about women, on theorising the gaze as an ideological apparatus, or on incorporating the everyday questions of the life of women as the issues of a feminist art that queries the dichotomy between highbrow and lowbrow and which explores the mass media and advertising.

The posters, publications and activities of Guerrilla Girls are recognition of this feminist path, are built from it, and invoke the feminist knowledge as the necessary conceptual framework for its correct interpretation. Furthermore, the Guerrilla Girls work shows that different political objectives approached by the feminist movement at the end of the 1960s have still not been achieved and it continues to fight for its pending political agenda. The 1988 poster ‘Until Feminism Has Achieved Its Goals, There Is No Post-Feminism' is a firm statement of intentions.

The exhibition is accompanied by workshops on feminist posters taught by Guerrilla Girls, along with the second Feminist Perspectives in Artist Practice and Theory of Art course that is co-directed by the curator of the exhibition, Xabier Arakistain and the senior professor in Social Anthropology of the UPV/EHU, Lourdes Méndez.



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last modified at 23.01.2015

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