Early September, the latest project by the Guerrilla Girls pulled up to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It was a billboard-laden truck printed with “Do women have to be naked to get into Boston museums?” and a picture of an odalisque with a gorilla mask over her head. Prime Guerrilla Girls fare.
The Guerrilla Girls have been around for 27 years, publishing books, giving lectures, and making posters that lay out the cold hard facts about how museums are always doing it wrong when it comes to show female artists. Maybe it’s their recent choice of high-profile targets like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Michele Bachmann, or a good PR team, but they’ve been getting some attention lately. As such, we were particularly excited to get an invitation to chat with one of the elusive Guerrilla Girls, Kathe Kollwitz.
“We are a secret society, who have been active for the past 27 years,” Kathe Kollwitz told us. She would not reveal just how many women have been involved with the Guerrilla Girls over the years, but Kathe did admit that “more than 60 members” have been part of their sorority. Asking men to join, she told us, is likely in the group’s future.
With so many members, you’d expect a lot of globe-trotting within the secret group, and sometimes that happens: Frida was on her way to Europe the day of our conversation. But none of the Guerrilla Girls went out to Minnesota to set up their Michele Bachmann project, which was a bit of a surprise to us. That billboard campaign, featuring a digitally blurred image of the former Presidential candidate, Kathe told us, didn’t require any of the group’s members to be there in person. “In our age, we don’t need to be in the same place,” she noted.
While the Michele Bachmann project wasn’t about artists and museums, it’s still similar in aim to their other projects. Like all their work-to-date, Kahlo said, “It uses art, but it’s activism” That trumpeting of activism over art has caused the Guerrilla Girls to stay outside the art world mainstream over the years, but they’ve never wavered from their original ways of working.
Even today, when many museums make their collections available online, the group still believes in making “cold calls” and having “moles in museums.” And they still, predominantly, use printed materials, like posters, books, and billboards, to get their message across.
This seems to have had negligible effects when it comes to actual change, though awareness may be building. No change inside the The Boston Museum of Fine Arts took place and the museum’s only response came from their social media department over Twitter:
@montgallery @guerrillagirls but 33% of artists in our contemporary wing are women … so we’re improving!
— Museum of Fine Arts (@mfaboston) September 7, 2012
Looking at that response, we hope to see a few more members of their secret society extend their efforts into the digital world. For all this press attention, there’s been surprisingly little feedback from institutions, let alone actual change inside the museum world. Some things, it seems, never change.