The Guerrilla Girls are still a big deal, even now, 30 years after their first feminist roar.
Wearing shaggy gorilla masks and art-world black, the self-styled “girls” were — and are — a group of smart and sassy women who call themselves the “conscience of the art world.” They assume the names of famous female artists. With humor, statistics and in-your-face aggression, they show how women’s art has been ignored by major museums, remains underrepresented in galleries and is underpriced everywhere.
They question why men wear the pants in paintings while women are so often naked, and why men most often run museums and “girls” do their typing.
Such issues are still relevant, but contemporary artists fret about other things, too, as seen in more than 50 museum exhibits, gallery shows and events that will unfold over the next seven weeks in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and Northfield.
Walker Art Center has a show of vintage Guerrilla Girls posters; the Minneapolis Institute of Art is running a brief G.G. video critiquing the museum’s collection, and the girls themselves will appear at the Weisman Art Museum (March 2) and the State Theatre (March 5) in Minneapolis.
All activities are part of the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover, a sprawling multimedia tribute to the group’s longevity and a passing of the torch to the next wave of feminist activists.
“The overarching goal of the takeover was to think intergenerationally,” said Kerry Morgan, gallery director at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and an organizer of the events.
“Feminism means different things to teens who are coming of age now than to the women who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s. Students today are the beneficiaries of so much that transpired over the past 30 years, and the issues they are raising are very different from what the Guerrilla Girls were about.”
To bridge that gap, the college is presenting two shows. “Stepping Back, Looking Forward,” featuring paintings, drawings and other art by pioneering Minnesota feminists, is “a kind of history lesson for our students,” Morgan said.
An accompanying exhibit, “Minnesota Mean,” presents the students’ own projects inspired by G.G. activism, including videos, posters and performances about everything from racial injustice to economic inequality, student debt and gender discomfort.
“ ‘Minnesota Mean’ is trying to point out that everything is not perfect in the world, and the students have something to say about those issues,” Morgan said. “They’re adopting new technologies — videos, websites, posters — trying to make a difference and effect change.”
Mexican prints at Highpoint
Though most active in the United States, the G.G. have achieved something of an international footprint. In 2005, they did an installation at the Venice Biennale and in 2013 were spotlit in a show in Bilbao, Spain. Now Mexican printmakers have been swept into their fervor.
Highpoint Center for Printmaking is presenting, from Feb. 5 to March 26, “Sus Voces” (“Their Voices”), a new show of prints — intaglios, lithographs, woodcuts — by nine contemporary Mexican women. Organized by Minneapolis-based printmaker Maria Cristina Tavera, the show addresses subjects as varied as self-portraiture, animé fantasy, flowers and Mexico City’s overcrowded urban industrial landscape.
“One of the artists has shown in Cuba, Italy and Japan, but many of them are emerging artists who haven’t received the recognition they deserve,” said Tavera, “so with the Guerrilla Girls here it just seemed to be a natural fit.”
Teen takeover on Hennepin
Twin Cities teens, too, are part of the takeover. Organizers met with teen councils affiliated with the Walker and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which, in turn, brought in other youth groups.
About 75 students met with emissaries of the Guerrilla Girls and brainstormed issues and how they might be expressed in public projects.
“The initial idea was to create posters, but the youth groups ended up taking over six store windows on Hennepin Avenue,” said Joan Vorderbruggen, the artist-coordinator at Hennepin Theatre Trust who finds artists to animate empty downtown Minneapolis storefronts.
The students decided to make videos and slide shows that will be collaged into a continuous loop of images that will play 24 hours a day. The projects will run from Feb. 29 through March 6 in six Hennepin storefronts between 7th and 8th streets.
“It’s basically inspiring teens to consider activism in the public realm via art,” Vorderbruggen said. None of the videos is finished, but she was impressed by the kids’ ideas in planning sessions.
“It really opened my eyes to see what these youths were dealing with,” she said, citing the lack of sex education in high schools, the sexualization of females in the media, homelessness, sexuality, race and class issues.
“They’re so sophisticated and had incredible ideas and ways to deal with the problems they face. It made me both happy and sad to see that it’s such a complicated world we live in, but they’re able to talk about some really tough subjects. It’s going to be very interesting to see what they produce.”