For a realm that’s defined by its creativity and progressiveness, the art world still suffers from a surprising lack of diversity. Tackling this subject head on are the Guerrilla Girls, the anonymous, mask-wearing, feminist art collective, who are holding a new exhibition of the fascinating results of a large-scale survey of European art institutions at The Whitechapel Gallery.
“More and more super rich art collectors are controlling museums,” says Kathe Kollwitz, one of the founding members of the group, during a talk with the press last Friday. “We have kind of gone back to the old system of kings, queens and emperors…We wanted to know if museums were feeling this kind of pressure, which we call the ‘bad behaviour’ of the US.”
The show’s title, Is it Even Worse in Europe, riffs on one of the collective’s earlier campaigns from 1986. This time, the Guerrilla Girls sent surveys to 383 directors of contemporary and modern art institutions in Europe, regarding the diversity of collections, exhibitions and the artists represented in their shows. The questions ranged from “What percentage of artists (not works) in your collections are women?” to “Is there a little-known artist in your collection who you particularly admire and think deserves to be better appreciated?”
Only about a quarter (101 institutions) responded – and their answers are all part of the exhibit, featured in colourful poster formats. “Sometimes what they said was ridiculous and fantastic; sometimes it wasn’t even truthful,” says Kollwitz. “We don’t know why they responded or why they didn’t respond. Were they afraid?”
Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, another founding member of the group present at the talk (obviously not her real name), are the first to admit this isn’t a “scientific” survey. “We’re not really social scientists – we’re creative players,” says Kahlo. “We’ve always been about trying to transform the system, not just putting our fingers up. We’ve always wanted to create a dialogue.” In this way, whether or not they have an answer to their exhibit's question seems less important than the fact that they asked it in the first place.
The Guerrilla Girls: Is it Even Worse in Europe? will run until 5 March, 2017 at The Whitechapel Gallery, London.
Text by Jainnie Cho