Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous collective of women artist-activists who began working together in 1985. Working across various media, the collective challenges the systems and individuals perpetuating discrimination and inequality in the art world by publicly sharing data and statistics about the representation of women and artists of color in commercial and institutional art spaces. Embracing the disruptive, confrontational, and irreverent, Guerrilla Girls draw from street art and the legacies of feminist activism to launch their critique of the art world.
Guerrilla Girls first formed in response to the underrepresentation of women artists and artists of color in major exhibitions — such as the Museum of Modern Art’s 1985 “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” which contained the works of only 13 women and eight artists of color among a total of 169 artists. Their work began with wheat-pasting posters across New York City’s SoHo and East Village neighborhoods, each sharing shocking statistics about the lack of diversity in New York’s major galleries. These Galleries Show No More Than 10% Women Artists Or None At All (1985) and These Critics Don’t Write Enough About Women Artists (1985), are both titles of works and statements written at the top of the posters in the collective’s signature bold Futura font, directly implicating New York galleries and art critics in the exclusion of women by including their names beneath the statements. Alongside their often antagonistic approach, Guerrilla Girls are known for their humor, with works like The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988) or Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? (1989) that use satire to decry the oppressive structures that marginalize women artists.
Over time, relationships between Guerrilla Girls and arts institutions have been variously adversarial and collaborative, working as much within these structures as against them. While still directly addressing inequalities enabled and constructed by institutions, Guerrilla Girls participate in museum exhibitions, conduct museum-commissioned surveys and studies, and are in the collections of museums worldwide. However, this has not dulled their sharp edge. In their work for the 2005 Venice Biennale, the collective critiqued the city’s museums and galleries with Benvenuti alla Biennale Femminista (2005), which highlighted the number of works by women artists held in basement storage, rather than shown in exhibitions. As the group’s impact has grown, so have the subjects of their critiques; Meet the Creeps (2022) is a Guerrilla Girls poster criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe v Wade, while Why Does the US have 5% of the World’s Population but 20% of its Prisoners (2022) addresses the American criminal justice system. In posters, protests, and performances, Guerrilla Girls have spent nearly four decades critiquing inequalities through unorthodox, populist means and aesthetics, engaging both art insiders and the general public with their work.
“There’s nothing worse than the word ‘art appreciation.’ It implies that you’re just there awestruck, and whatever you’re being fed, you appreciate. Art really is about discourse and about discussion.”
“Frida Kahlo,” Guerrilla Girl