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Guerrilla Girls ask a big art question


guerrilla girls, Whitechapel Gallery, diversity, art galleries‘Are museums today presenting a diverse history of contemporary art or the history of money and power?’

For over three decades now the Guerrilla Girls have been exposing and challenging sexism and racism in the visual arts, politics and culture at large, and now for the first time the anonymous feminist activist group revisit their 1986 campaign ‘It’s Even Worse in Europe’.

The Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous, feminist activists, was founded in 1985.

Each member takes the name of a woman artist from the past as a pseudonym and in public their identities are hidden under gorilla masks.

Using facts, humour and fake fur, they have been producing posters, banners, stickers, billboards, projections and other public projects that expose sexism, racism and corruption in art, film, politics and culture at large.

The artists, a shifting collective, have regularly named and shamed galleries that don’t show enough women artists and critics who don’t write enough about them, as the Guardian explained earlier this year.

Their better-known posters have included, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” and, “It’s Even Worse in Europe”.

The Guerrilla Girls are all individual working artists in their own right, but keep their identities secret when part of the collective.

And they are not represented by any gallery and have always kicked out against institutions, so there is obvious irony, the Guardian pointed out, in museums such as the Getty and Tate having their artworks in their permanent collections.

In the summer of 2016, the Guerrilla Girls wrote to 383 European museum directors, inviting them to respond to fourteen questions about diversity.

The responses they received, or did not receive, have been revealed in their latest campaign ‘Is it even worse in Europe?’ which was launched at London’s Whitechapel Gallery on 1 October 2016.

A new banner has been installed on the façade of the Gallery for the five months. It reveals that only a quarter of museums responded to their questionnaire, and invites visitors to go inside the Gallery to discover more.

Copies of every completed questionnaire, some typed and others hand-written, cover a wall in the Archive Gallery for visitors to read.

The questions and responses relate to the number of artists in recent exhibitions who are female, gender non conforming or from Africa, Asia, South Asia and South America.

Ten new posters also feature in the Gallery, presenting the full list of museums that responded, plus thought provoking statistics, analysis, and comments from the directors offered as part of the returned questionnaires.

On the floor of the Archive Gallery, a full list of the museums who did not respond to the questionnaire is published for all visitors to see.

The Guerrilla Girls said: “With this project, we wanted to pose the question ‘Are museums today presenting a diverse history of contemporary art or the history of money and power?’

“We focus on the understory, the subtext, the overlooked and the downright unfair.

“Art can’t be reduced to the small number of artists who have won a popularity contest among bigtime dealers, curators and collectors.

“Unless museums and Kunsthallen show art as diverse as the cultures they claim to represent, they’re not showing the history of art, they’re just preserving the history of wealth and power.”

‘Is it even worse in Europe?’ runs until 5 March 2017.

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