NEWSDAY: ‘Guerrilla Girls’ exhibit at Staller Center a witty look at feminism

Students attend a preview reception for the exhibit "Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond" at the Paul Zuccaire Gallery at Stony Brook University's Staller Center. Photo Credit: Karen Levitov
Students attend a preview reception for the exhibit “Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond” at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center. Photo Credit: Karen Levitov

Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 9.31.24 AMEntertainment | September 28, 2016 6:40 PM
By Steve Parks steve.parks@newsday.com

WHAT “Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond”
WHEN | WHERE Through Oct. 22, Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, Staller Center, Stony Brook University. Hours: noon-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3-9 p.m. Saturdays. Reception: 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1. Art talk: 4 p.m. Oct. 13, Wang Center Theatre
ADMISSION Free; 631-632-7240, zuccairegallery.stonybrook.edu

It’s not every day you get to interview a legendary female artist — never mind a deceased one. Calling the number a curator supplied us, we spoke to “Frida Kahlo” on her cell in Manhattan.

Actually she’s not that Frida Kahlo — the late Mexican artist. But this living “Frida” is sort of an anonymous legend. She’s part of a movement whose touring exhibition, “Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond,” is making a statement at Stony Brook University’s Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery.

The Guerrilla Girls go incognito, wearing gorilla masks and answering only to the names of dead female artists. They started in 1985 with a protest of the Museum of Modern Art’s “International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” which included 156 male and 13 female artists. They’ve gone on to protest income inequality and diversity issues as well.

“At first, we were anonymous to protect our peers from retribution,” Frida says. “But then we decided it was a great strategy to depersonalize our protest so that it’s not about us. Frankly, the masks create curiosity about our message.”

MAKE ’EM LAUGH
Wit is also key. “Humor is a great way to fly under the radar,” Frida says. “If you can make someone laugh, even if they disagree, they’re less apt to take offense. You just may change their mind.”

Examples abound in “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which has toured since 2012. Billboard-size banners combine provocative imagery and text. “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” one banner asks while adding, “Less than 4 percent of the artists in the modern art section are women, but 76 percent of the nudes are female.” A reclining female figure wearing only a gorilla mask contextualizes the numbers.

Museums aren’t the only targets. “The Anatomically Correct Oscar” — white and male, of course — dominates a banner citing facts that include, “Best director has never been female!” (A revised edition updates that complaint as Kathryn Bigelow became the first and so far only woman to win a best director Oscar — 2009, “The Hurt Locker.”)

The overtly political 2003 “Estrogen Bomb” banner cites policies of the George W. Bush administration that might be reversed if the Washington ruling class were less testosterone-driven.

YOUR SAY
A blackboard with the heading, “I’m not a feminist, but if I was this is what I’d complain about,” invites visitors to express their thoughts. Among them: “Being told it was my fault I was raped” and “Why do I earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns for the SAME work!”

Two Guerrilla Girls, including “Frida,” will speak at an Oct. 13 art talk, but none can attend Saturday’s gallery reception, hosted by director Karen Levitov, who mounted the show. “It’s a great place to exhibit such large-scale pieces, with our 24-foot-high ceiling,” she says. The Girls will be in Europe, whose museums, they say, are even less inclusive.

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