"Portfolio Compleat" WordsAndPictures: The Guerrilla Girls activist art collection at the Walker Art Center
Olga Viso, center, and Guerrilla Girls, Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz. Photo courtesy of Walker Art Center.
"The [Guerrilla Girls] want to understand what the issues are that youth today are thinking about." - Olga Viso
by Sheila Regan
When the Guerrilla Girls take over the Twin Cities in January, they will project billboards on buildings, infiltrate museums and generally inject a dose of arts activism into the cultural scene.
Anchoring the "Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover" will be an installation of their own posters at the Walker Art Center's "Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections" exhibition. The Girls will select about a third of their posters to put on display. In addition, there will be a TV monitor with footage of their past installations. "It's an artist-designed installation/presentation of an historical overview of their posters," says Olga Viso, the Walker's director.
In 2014, the Walker bought a special edition of the Guerrilla Girls' posters, called the Portfolio Compleat, which includes 88 posters the Guerrilla Girls have created since their founding in 1985. The Walker also subscribed to future posters, including digital files, which allows the museum to reproduce the artwork at larger or smaller scales.
The recent acquisition isn't the first time the Walker has invested in the Guerrilla Girls. The relationship goes back to 1993, when the Walker purchased a similar collection of posters. They brought the group to the museum twice, first in 1998 and then in 2003. Because of that ongoing relationship, "and because they continued to be such a potent voice in the art world, we thought it was important to have their archives," Viso says.
Viso has a personal interest in the group as well. "I emerged in the art world as a curator and as an art historian, also in the late '80s," she says. "They were a very vocal force then, and I think very central to the conversation in contemporary art at that time."
She has been impressed by how the Girls' work continues to speak to a younger generation. "They want to understand what the issues are that youth today are thinking about," Viso says. "In the early years, they're really focused on gender issues, and then, gender equality issues, and then there's a whole racial dynamic that becomes a strong focus. Now they've entered into an array of all kinds of political issues that have to do more with class and wealth and race - not specifically women's issues, but larger societal and human issues."
For the Guerrilla Girls Takeover, the Walker is partnering closely with a consortium of arts organizations. Notably, many of the institutions involved have women leaders at their helm, perhaps the result of the Guerrilla Girls pushing the issue of gender equality in the art world for the past 30 years.
When the Walker was approached about an exhibition, in anticipation of the Girls' 30th anniversary, Viso felt their community activism as well as public nature of their artwork didn't lend itself to a conventional museum survey exhibition. "That's when I thought, wouldn't it be interesting if Mia, the Weisman and the Walker tried to do something more dispersed across multiple venues," she says. Other museums were interested in the idea. In fact, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) already had workshops and curriculum planned for their students to work with the Guerrilla Girls.
For the Takeover, the Walker, Mia, and MCAD will hold a joint Kickoff, with teen-focused buses going between the different venues. "It's something we've always wanted to do, and this kind of catalyzed that," Viso says. The list of partnering organizations is long, from Hennepin Theater Trust to a host of smaller galleries that are doing their own related exhibitions. Plus, some of the original members of Minnesota's own feminist art collective, Women's Art Resources of Minnesota (WARM), will show their work as part of the project.
Starting out as an activist art collective, it may seem strange that the Guerrilla Girls are now embraced by some of the largest institutions in Minnesota, but Viso says that the Walker and the other museums know what they are getting into. "We're not blind to the possibilities of what they might surface in the engagements in our community," Viso says. "We were all game for being open to that."
IFYOUGO Check out these free Guerrilla Girls-inspired events. Find more events and details at www.ggtakeover.com What: Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections - opening reception for the Guerrilla Girls poster archive in the exhibition.
Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
When: Jan. 21, 5-9 p.m.
What: Art of Rebellion - Guerilla Girls ReMix of the Minneapolis Institute of Art's permanent collection.
Where: Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls.
When: Jan. 21, 6-9 p.m.
What: Hennepin Avenue Takeover - Guerrilla Girls public installation as you the artists present work created in collaboration with the Girls in storefront windows in downtown Minneapolis.
When: February 29-March 5