Guerrilla Girls and the CMOA

Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, 1989, offset laser or inkjet print poster. The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, © Guerrilla Girls


Guerrilla Girls and the CMOA

Author: Annie Abernathy, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

“Only 4 of the 42 artists in the Carnegie International are women.” So declares a message by the Guerrilla Girls in 1986, produced as part of this feminist art collective’s sustained attack on the inequalities of the art world. As Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the 57th edition of the Carnegie International, the situation is thankfully much better. This year, 17 out of 32 artists included in the International are women.

The Guerrilla Girls are also making their presence felt in the permanent collection displays of the Carnegie Museum of Art. As part of Crossroads, the museum’s recent rehang of the contemporary galleries, a collection of their posters are currently on display in the Scaife Galleries. What would the Guerrilla Girls think of This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, the student curated exhibition at the University Art Gallery that opens a few weeks after the Carnegie International? Given their own iconic billboard designs of the 1980s, what might they make of our inclusion of Tom Blackwell’s print I-610 North? Where the Guerrilla Girls use art to protest the art world itself, Blackwell’s work appears to merely repeat and reinforce traditional gendered imagery. Both women in these works are reminiscent of classical depictions of the female nude such as Manet’s Olympia or Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Drawing upon a history in which women have consistently been presented as passive objects, the Guerrilla Girls take a stand. The group of their posters on show in Crossroads at CMOA use the traditional female nude to call out institutional sexism.

This is not Ideal also uses a historical lens to confront contemporary issues, reinterpreting artworks in the collection to expose their sexist content. The CMOA has often collected works through the Carnegie International, such that the decisions of its curators make a lasting impact on the museum’s collection. As the students curating This is not Ideal have discovered, it is a constant struggle in exhibition making to acknowledge the limits of the collection you are drawing upon. The UAG collection also has its disparities: the statistics are difficuly to calculate, but only about 8% of the works in the collection were created by women. In This is Not Ideal, sexist and traditional histories are challenged through their dialogue with non-normative images. By using a biased history to tell a new narrative, we hope that viewers will see how the past still resonates in the present, and what transformations must occur to effect lasting change.

Crossroads is now open in the Scaife Galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

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