The anonymous feminist art group know exactly what to do about allegations in the art world
Sexual predators and stories of abuse and harassment in the art world are absolutely nothing new, but the creative industries continue to struggle with responding rightly to the Me Too movement. The Guerrilla Girls, the feminist art collective who work for more inclusivity and representation in art, have made new work to help museums and galleries contextualise this era.
The anonymous group’s latest work, displayed at the From Nope to Hope exhibition of protest art in London, includes a series of wall labels. They cite the case of artist Chuck Close, who had sexual harassment allegations made against him, and his 2006 portrait of Bill Clinton, which was on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. In May, an exhibition of his work was cancelled following the claims.
The labels directly reference the case of Chuck Close. The title on their banner, as in their style, reads: “3 WAYS TO WRITE A MUSEUM WALL LABEL WHEN THE ARTIST IS A SEXUAL PREDATOR”.
“In every museum there are probably debates going on right now about how to respond to the #MeToo movement,” Kathe Kollwitz from Guerrilla Girls tells Dazed. “We decided to help them figure it out, by giving them three ways to write a wall label: one for museums afraid of alienating their billionaire collectors who donated the artist's work; one for museums conflicted about disclosing an artist' abuse next to his art; and one for museums who need help from the Guerrilla Girls.”
The group decided to use the Close portrait of the former president as a case study after visiting the National Portrait Gallery last February. It was, Kollwitz says, “One accused sexual predator painting another!”
The labels themselves are formatted like those beside art in galleries and museums. The first option – for those refusing to confront allegations – talks plainly of Close’s influence as an artist. The second option makes a cryptic reference to “disgruntled employees” while the third plainly outlines the accusations by models, calls out the art world for tolerating abuse and enforcing that rules “don’t apply to ‘genius’ white male artists”.
Since the allegations came to light, Close has apologised for speaking crudely about model’s bodies, but has denied claims of harassment.
The Guerrilla Girls works are currently on display at the From Nope to Hope exhibition – a show made up of the 40 artists who withdrew their work from the Design Museum in opposition to an arms industry event. Other artwork on display includes pieces by Shepard Fairey, Jeremy Deller, Tania Bruguera and Milton Glaser.
Jess Worth, the co director of Culture Unstained, member of BP or not BP? and co-curator of From Nope to Hope said in a statement: “This edgy show of over 250 protest artworks, curated by the artists themselves, reflects a deep commitment to a kinder, safer, fairer world. It is fizzing with an urgent desire to challenge power, shake up politics and end the use of our cultural institutions to artwash arms and oil companies’ toxic brands. The exhibition has clearly chimed with many people, and we hope that many more will now get a chance to see it.”
From Nope to Hope: Art vs Arms, Oil and Injustice is on display until September 30 at the Brixton Recreation Centre.