Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? is a poster designed by the Guerrilla Girls – a radical feminist collective – in order to draw attention to rampant discrimination against women artists in the curatorial collections of major museums. Legendary for their guerrilla tactics, gorilla masks and take-no-prisoners attitude, the Guerrilla Girls name names and point fingers with no apologies. The Guerrilla Girls were formed in New York in 1985 as a response to a survey of contemporary art at the Museum of Modern Art in which only 13 of the 169 artists represented were women. Unsatisfied with the effects of their demonstrations outside the museum, a group of women artist protestors joined together in order to more directly confront issues of gender representation in the art world.

For the past several decades, the Guerilla Girls have created posters, billboards and ad campaigns that reveal disturbing statistics about the representation of women artists in major museum collections. The use of graphic design has become a characteristic technique for the Guerrilla Girls’ activist art. Graphic design brings controversial criticisms of the art world out of the sacred space of museums and into the general public. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?  was featured in New York City public buses in 1989, and has since become one of the most famous of the Guerrilla Girls’ interventions. The bold colors and compelling imagery make the poster impossible to ignore.

For their striking poster design, the Girls have drawn from an icon of the 19th century Western Art canon, Jean-August-Dominique Ingres’ Grande Odalisque.   An odalisque is an image of a female slave in an Oriental harem, often depicted reclining and nude, or semi-nude. Ingres’ Grande Odalisque has become a symbol of idealized female beauty.[1] The face of Ingres’ Odalisque has been replaced by the same gorilla mask that the Guerrilla Girls don to reveal their identities when appearing in public. By collaging their signature gorilla mask onto the Grande Odalisque, the Guerrilla Girls explode this classic symbol of female sexuality. The Grande Odalisque has been “mask-ulinized.”[2]

The Guerrilla Girls have released several editions of the Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? poster. These editions either feature a recount of the statistics from the Modern sections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or using the same design to attack different museums. The Guerrilla Girls remark in their 2012 publication, The Guerrilla Girls’ Updated Art Museum Activity Book: “We were sure things had improved, but surprise! Only 4% of the artists in the Modern and Contemporary sections were women, but 76% of the nudes were female. Fewer women artists, more naked males. Is this progress? Guess we can’t put our masks away yet.”[3]



[1] “Odalisque.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 14 Jan. 2013. <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t4/e1193>.

[2] Interview with the Guerrilla Girls, Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, New York: Harper Perennial, 1995.

[3] Guerilla Girls. Interviewed by Christopher Bollen, Interview Magazine, April 2012. http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/guerrilla-girls#_

 

 

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