Monday, April 23, 1 p.m. ET

Artful Warfare

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"Frida Kahlo "
The Guerrilla Girls
Monday, April 23, 2007; 1:00 PM

The Guerrilla Girls were founded in 1985 with a mission to bring attention to issues of gender and race within the art world. Through posters and public actions, hard facts and a bit of humor they have confronted inequality in major museums and Hollywood. The more than 100 artists and historians that have made up the Guerilla Girls work anonymously, adopting gorilla masks and the names of dead women artists.

Guerilla Girl "Frida Kahlo," appearing under the pseudonym of the dead Mexican painter, will be online Monday at 1 p.m. ET to discuss their work and their recent contribution to The Post's Sunday Arts special section, Feminism in Art. The Guerrilla Girls also have authored "The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art."

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

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Washington, D.C.: I've followed your work for years and you make a lot of valid points. Why the anonymity? What would be lost by making the statements you make sans gorilla suits?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: The short answer to your questions is that if we didn't wear masks we probably wouldn't be taken so seriously or even listened to...we'd be another bunch of women complaining about our careers. The longer answer is that the mask allows us to focus on the issue and away from our personalities and to speak about the situation of many women artists, not just the individual women we happen to be.

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Arlington, Va.: Loved your piece in the Sunday Post! You gals have been doing pieces like this for a long time now -- do you think it's helping? Do you think more female artists are getting a shot at the big museum collections?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: We hope it's getting better but the statistics from the national museums were a shock to us. It made us think about the difference between being in a collection and having your work hanging in the museum galleries. The Hirshhorn Collection for example is 85 percent male, 15 percent female yet the art work on exhibit right now is 95 percent male and 5 percent female. Women artists, under-represented in the collections, are being further edited out of the exhibitions. It's even worse for artists of color. And these museums are our national museums, supported by our tax dollars. Everyone has the right to complain about it.

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Washington, D.C.: You alluded to the recent Smithsonian scandals in your drawing for The Post. What do you think about the way these public funds were used?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: Well, extravagant expense accounts for civil servants trying to live up to the lifestyles of billionaire art collectors is a problem. Secret funds to augment the salaries of non-profit museum directors like what happened at MoMA, is sleazy. We think the whole system where art collectors/investors serve as trustees of art museums and are in a position to manipulate the value of their own collections, is a conflict of interest and maybe even insider trading. It's just not ethical. How can we trust this kind of system to decide what art should be preserved as the history of our culture?

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Laurel, Md.: Thank you Guerilla Girls!! Your section in The Post today was like a breath of fresh air. I am an Artist, and a woman of color. Even in the 'safe' environment of other women artists, I am discouraged from raising the issue of racism. Thank you for being courageous enough to keep both issues -- sexism and racism -- in view.

Carole Shaw

www.carolelylesshaw.com

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: Thanks Carole. Pass our Washington Post project around to everyone you know! That how our work first got known years ago. And don't be discouraged from raising the issue of ethnicity in the art world. It's your culture, too! Museums, especially ones run by the US government, have a responsibility to tell the whole story of our culture, not just the story of the dominant gender and class!

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Richmond: What do you think about female gallery owners and/or directors whose artists are about 20 to 1 male/female? Do you know how well women do in the gallery world today, besides co-ops? How well are women represented in alternative non-profit gallery spaces which have become mainstream?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: That's a lot of questions. First, we're visual artists, not statisticians. We go after the specific information we need for a specific project. For more information about women in galleries, check out the Web site of brainstormersreport.net. They've done recent studies of NYC galleries and have found a decrease in women artists. We don't have stats on women in alternative spaces and it would be great for someone to do that research and then show it to the public funding sources for those galleries.

We think that female gallery owners who show 20 male artists to 1 female artist is BOY CRAZY...just like the National Gallery and Hirshhorn!

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washingtonpost.com: Brainstormer's Report

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Boston: Now that we've heard what you have to say, how can we help? What's the best way to stop our national museums from being so racist and sexist? Write letters? It seems so ... banal.

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: Complain, complain, complain! But do it creatively. Shame and ridicule are powerful weapons in the art world. And don't forget to have fun in the process. Your laughter disarms the powers-that-be.

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Big fan: So are you wearing your masks to answer our questions?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: Yes.

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Anonymous: If you have pseudonyms, how are we certain that none of you are only pretending to be female?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: We're all female and you'll just have to trust us on that. Besides, what difference would it make to the issues if we had some male Baboon Boys? Men can be feminists, too. In fact, the world needs more male feminists!

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Richmond: Do you think it would hurt your career if the art world knew you were a Guerilla G?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: You'll have to ask the art world about that! Actually, not many in the art world really care to know who we actually are. What we say and do is what's important. Maybe even more important because we don't attach real names to it. Our anonymity goes against the modern stereotype of the artist as a self-absorbed individual desperately wanting to be remembered in history.

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New York, N.Y.:"trustees of art museums and are in a position to manipulate the value of their own collections, is a conflict of interest and maybe even insider trading."

This is a fascinating statement, and something I'm naive¿ve to. Art is part of the alternative investment market. This would be tantamount to insider trading. But how does it work? How are they able to manipulate the value of art?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: Every time an artist is shown in a museum, the value of his or her work increases.

Here are just a couple of scenarios. A trustee sits on a committee reviewing future exhibitions and finds out what artists the museum will show the next couple years, then goes out and buys work by those artists.

Or, an museum trustee owns work by a certain artist and then supports a show of that artist's work in the museum. A slight variation of this was the case of Charles Saatchi at the Brooklyn Museum. Saatchi wasn't a trustee but he gave the museum a pile of money to do a show that included many artists he collected. A year or so later he sent work to auction by those same artists and got record prices.

Guiseppe Panza di Biumo sold his art collection to LA MOCA for $11 million while he was a museum trustee.

Finally, there are the curators who serve as "advisors" to trustees and tell them what art to buy (invest) in. Art collecting now is as much about money as about preserving and protecting the art. Maybe art collectors/investors shouldn't be allowed to be museum trustees.

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Huntington, W.Va.: How do you see the role of humor and parody in your work? Do these tactics allow you to reach a broader audience? Do you think they're more persuasive than traditional political tactics like boycotts, etc.?

Thanks.

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: When our group first began, we weren't sure what to do, but we were sure that traditional protests with boycotts, chants and picket lines didn't work in the oh-so-cool artworld. Why? Because we protested outside MoMA in 1985 when they opened an international exhibition of contemporary art with fewer than 10% women artists and to our disappointment, the protest had no effect at all.

To make ourselves feel better, we started making jokes and laughing about an artworld that excluded us as a group. Then we got the idea to carry our humor into the streets. We soon learned that difficult things are easier said with humor. It you can make someone who disagrees with you laugh at their beliefs, then maybe you have bored a hole into their consciousness and you can get them to change their minds.

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Cambridge, Mass.: What percentage of arts grant money in the U.S. is awarded to women?

Among all the museums and institutes of modern/contemporary art in the U.S., what percentage of artists in the permanent collection are women?

How about in temporary exhibitions in these museums?

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: We don't know about arts grant money but we bet there's someone at the Foundation Center who could figure that out. That would be a great project. Better yet someone should do research into the art market to see how much women artists earn compared to male artists. We bet it's a whole lot less than 66 cents to the dollar!

Of the museums we researched in Washington, the number of women in their collections was a few percentage points higher than the number of women in temporary exhibitions.

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Guerrilla Girl "Frida Kahlo."

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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