Guerrilla Girls lecture, Loyola Marymount University, October 25, 2010

The Guerrilla Girls is such a great concept. An anonymous collective of women artists, wearing gorilla masks to conceal their (some famous, some not) identities, wreaking havoc on the sexist and racist practices of the art world through posters, billboards, stickers, ads, books, demonstrations, workshops, and performative lectures. They’ve been crashing the old boys’ party since 1985, and something like 100 anonymous women activists/artists have passed through their ranks, even forming offshoot groups like GuerrillaGirlsBroadband (web-based interventions) and Guerrilla Girls on Tour (a theatrical collective).

Loudly reading the world the riot act through “facts, humor, and outrageous visuals” can seem charmingly dated in today’s complex, networked, and nuanced society, where things are not nearly as blatantly offensive as they were back in the Mad Men days. But the Girls are right when they say that true civil equality has yet to be attained, and the fight cannot be given up. The facts that they point out may not be news to someone already well versed in progressive movements, and indeed I find myself wishing that they would A) address more root causes instead of end results, and B) pose as many possible solutions as they do problems. However they are always going to be news to someone, and the necessity to remind until the problems are eradicated is paramount. (Plus, I give their material credit for being really funny and really well designed.)

Two members of the New York–based Guerrilla Girls were in town this past Monday night to give a lecture as part of the Bellarmine Forum on Women’s Art and Activism, hosted by Loyola Marymount University. True to form, it was a fun evening filled with troubling facts, such as the wise Confucius’ dictate that “100 women do not equal one testicle.” Ew.

The most thought-provoking moment for me came when they pointed out why the art system sucks so much. Anyone can download an Mp3 or buy a ticket to a movie, thus controlling where the revenues go in the world of popular entertainment. But the art market is controlled by people who can afford to drop $250,000 on a blue-chip painting. How can non-wealthy people hope to have a say in such an environment? Particularly in America, where government and popular support for the visual arts is practically nonexistent.

This is truly depressing, and interestingly, it mirrors the overall financial situation in this country, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and money buys everything. It seems that the only solution to this greedy mess is regulation, plus increased government support of the arts. Some galleries require that if one major work by an artist is purchased by a collector, that collector must promise another major work by the same artist to a museum. Obviously this requirement is geared toward furthering the career of the artist, but some version of it could also be used to more democratically distribute the ownership of art, and to lessen the impact of collectors’ choices.

Right after I finished writing this, Jori Finkel posted this depressing piece at the LA Times.

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