In 1984, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City hosted a giant show called “An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture,” and of the 169 artists included, only 13 were women. A group of women artists decided to do something about it. Calling themselves the Guerrilla Girls, they pasted posters demonstrating the poor record of the art world on the inclusion of women artists up all over Soho. The posters were largely simple, block-lettered items that pointed out how few women were showing in galleries. The members of the group remained anonymous themselves, though they adopted the names of dead female artists. This new self-described “conscience of the art world” caused the sensation they’d hoped; they were extensively covered in the press. Not that they didn’t have their doubters. Per Roberta Smith, a long-serving art-critic for the New York Times:
Waging a largely single-issue campaign that shunts aside the complexities of esthetic style and quality and that has drawn some negative criticism of its own, the Guerrilla Girls have helped fuel an increasingly noisy debate about elitism in the art world, part of a larger debate, spilling out from universities, about whether racial and sexual biases have narrowed the understanding of history and culture.
But even so, Smith herself admitted she found the movement’s critiques trenchant, when applied to herself. And she became a supporter:
(Their anonymity can be unsettling, but, having been a target, I think it makes their criticism easier to take. In 1986, after a stint at another newspaper, I was chagrined to see my own name on a poster that listed 22 critics who wrote about women less than 10 percent of the time. Early last year, along with hundreds of other women in the art world, I agreed to let them use my name on a poster of Guerrilla Girl supporters.)
The online art gallery 98Bowery.com has an exhibit of the posters up. They are also selling them for purchase. Here are ten of our own favorites from the collection.