Guerrilla Girls Go Getty: Sell-Out? Or Smart Move?

The Guerrilla Girls — an anonymous group of female, gorilla-mask-wearing radicals dedicated to protesting against sexual and racial prejudice in the art establishment — have sold their archives to Los Angeles’ Getty Research Institute.

The Guerrilla Girls have been donning furry heads since the 1980s, when they began protesting art shows and posting flyers detailing what The Independent somewhat dismissively calls “their various beefs.” These “beefs” include the underrepresentation of female artists in museums — one poster famously asked “Does a woman have to get naked to get into the Met?” — and racism and sexism in the art market. After the deal, the Getty will own forty boxes of the Girls’ “correspondence, photos, fan mail, hate mail, sketches, notes on projects, and drafts of some of our books.”

So have the Girls sold out? The official Guerrilla Girls website is oddly silent on the issue, including only a small mention of the Getty. GG spokeswoman Kathe Kollwitz (all the Girls take the names of famous dead women) tells The Independent that the Getty acquisition will make their memorabilia more accessible: “the Getty will be able to properly catalogue it and put it online to make it accessible.” Kollwitz also says that no individual Guerrilla Girls will profit from the sale.

But The Independent points out that “for the Research Institute – founded by the extraordinarily wealthy (and distinctly male) oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty – to be entrusted with the subversive group’s archive may seem at best counter-intuitive, and at worst downright hypocritical.” However, Getty’s maleness isn’t really the problem here. More troubling are its acquisitions of allegedly looted artifacts, hardly what the Girls would deem model museum behavior. Of course, other museums have done the same — buying artifacts of questionable provenance, at least until recent exposes, may have been par for the course in the museum world. Which is exactly why it’s something of a shame that the Guerrilla Girls have joined this world, limiting their ability to objectively critique it. Malfeasance aside, the Getty and museums like it do provide a valuable service — but so do the Guerrilla Girls. Now that they’ve joined forces, we fear the whole may be less than the sum of its parts.

We asked the Guerrilla Girls to respond to our concerns about the Getty’s history, and they pointed out that The Independent (and Jezebel) may be slow on the uptake — the deal actually happened more than a year ago. Here’s Kathe Kollwitz’s response to our message:

Our papers were acquired over a year ago by the Getty Research Institute. The GRI is the repository of many other artists’ archives. It has a great reputation for preserving these kinds of materials, and making them accessible — online, and at the GRI itself.
We are well aware that just about every museum worldwide has acquisition issues, which we pointed out in The Guerrilla Girl’s Art Museum Activity Book, a satirical look at museum ethics.
Best, Kathe Kollwitz for the Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girl Power: Have America’s Feminist Artists Sold out? [The Independent]
Getty Acquires Guerrilla Girls Archive [Telegraph]
Getty Research Institute Recent Acquisitions [Official Site]
Guerrilla Girls [Official Site]

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