Three decades after they first began exposing inequality in the art world, a group of anonymous mask-wearing feminist activists called the Guerrilla Girls have their first dedicated UK show but it feels somehow bureaucratic and manipulative and one starts wondering whether this kind of art has done any good to the art world.
The show is literally a survey of more than 400 European galleries to explore whether museums are reflecting the full diversity of art and art history. Visually, and let’s not forget that this is art and we are in a museum, it is presented as an installation of paperwork (as in forms and graphics) which draws attention to the bureaucratic aspect of art. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any irony here and this added to the political correctness of the subject matters transforms the whole exercise in all that has made the art world a place where these points (inequality and unfairness) are laundered and not tackled.
The way the actual bureaucracy has responded to it confirms my point. Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London, who is the one who commissioned this self aggrandising show reinforces my point: “I was just at the Kunstmuseum in Basel where they have just rehung the entire collection from 1900 to the present and I think there are five women. Sadly it is still an issue.” Yes, but isn’t Blazwick a woman? Besides, the way this show was funded evidences another problem because not only once but twice it says that the archive exhibitions are ‘generously supported by Catherine Petitgas’ who, firstly, is the ‘wife’ of Morgan Stanley financier ‘Franck Petitgas’ and, secondly, is the kind of collector that the Guerrilla Girls have bitched about during their whole career. To make things even worse, the show includes a video where they talk about the cruelty of wealthy art collectors spending so much money to show off but not pay for wages. It must be born in mind that the exhibition is a room divided from the museum library by a glass where two of those low wage (possibly no wage) employees looked bored and frustrated. Lazy as they (visually) are, the artists end up coming across as taking advantage of the inequality instead of ironically playing around the situation.
These days, I am particularly sensitive to this ‘artists have to make a living’ situation. While Argentina is outraged by the amount of money paid by the government to private art dealers to attend the Madrid (ARCO) art fair, an artist like Marcia Schwartz who has been denouncing these situation for years ends up being the beneficiary of this kind of money. The question is an ethical question. Why artist do what they do and why do we even bother to look at it? J A T