Magazine article The New Yorker

GIRLS BEHAVING BADLY; THE BENCH Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

GIRLS BEHAVING BADLY; THE BENCH Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

In 1985, a small group of feminist artists noticed that an exhibition of contemporary art at the Museum of Modern Art featured a hundred and forty-eight men artists and only seventeen women. The women decided to mount a protest over this disparity, but they wanted to do something a little more creative than holding a press conference or handing out leaflets. Because they were working artists themselves, they also hoped to avoid becoming targets for retaliation in the male-dominated art world. They decided on a guerrilla-style protest: this involved wearing gorilla masks in public, calling themselves the Guerrilla Girls, and adopting pseudonyms that celebrated great female artists of the past. "We were funny instead of super-serious all the time," a Guerrilla Girl known as "Gertrude Stein" said the other day. "No one knew who we were. And we caused a sensation."

For the next fifteen years or so, the Guerrilla Girls became famous for their sly posters and inspired street theatre. "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?" one poster asked, noting that less than than five per cent of the modern artists shown there were women but more than eighty-five per cent of the museum's nudes were female. "Our anonymity turned out to be a brilliant move," said "Meret Oppenheim," the earlytwentieth-century surrealist best known for her fur teacup. "People couldn't focus on anyone's individual motives, but focussed instead on the issues we were raising." The collective toured colleges and museums, put on their own art shows, and published a series of books, including "Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls' Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes."

As the Girls' dominion began to grow--they incorporated as Guerrilla Girls, Inc., in 1999--tensions developed within the group. After 2000, the Girls weathered what they came to refer to as "the banana split." A branch of the group devoted to fighting discrimination in the theatre now performs around the country under the name Guerrilla Girls on Tour, and an online enterprise split off, too, calling itself GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand. In October, 2003, on behalf of Guerrilla Girls, Inc., two of the original Girls, "Frida Kahlo" and "Kathe Kollwitz," filed a federal lawsuit against the on-tour and broadband entities, and against several of their former colleagues, including Gertrude Stein, charging them with, among other things, copyright and trademark infringement and unjust enrichment. …

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