CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — “Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond” is one of four new exhibitions opening Jan. 23 at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum. Featuring major works from international projects by the anonymous feminist collective that has been urging museums toward equality for almost 30 years, the expansive, multimedia “Not Ready” exhibition will include iconic pieces from the group’s 1980s and ’90s activism as well as behind-the-scenes photos, love letters and hate mail.
"Composition No. 1" (detail), ca. 2009 Graphite and pastel on paper | Photo courtesy of the artist and Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art © Victor Ekpuk
Since 1985, Guerrilla Girls have been combining humor, hard facts and art on street posters, billboards and stickers to draw attention to the underrepresentation of female and minority artists in museums around the world. Their most iconic poster, a collaged image of a nude concubine (Ingres’ “La Grande Odalisque”) adorned with a gorilla mask, posed the question: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” The statistical answers have been updated by the Guerrilla Girls over the years, with results ranging from females accounting for less than 5 percent of artists in the Metropolitan’s Modern Art section but 85 percent of the nudes in 1989, to less than 4 percent of the artists and 76 percent of the nudes in 2011.
They’ve published five books, most recently “The Guerrilla Girls’ Art Museum Activity Book,” with “fun facts” about art museums (such as, gift shop executives have higher salaries than curators), hosted workshops, mounted billboards, and distributed stickers and posters designed for other activists to plaster on bathroom stall doors and in gift shops. All along, the Guerrilla Girls have maintained their anonymity by adopting the names of dead female artists and wearing gorilla masks. One of the founding members of the group will join curator Neysa Page-Lieberman for a conversational lecture at the Krannert Art Museum auditorium at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27.
To complement the Guerrilla Girls exhibition, the museum has selected works from its permanent collection created by artists who used similar tactics to confront inequities based on race, gender and sexual orientation; to protest military conflict; or to criticize class disparities. Titled “Art as Provocation,” this exhibition includes works by Michael Ray Charles, Vernon Fisher, Barbara Kruger, Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems.
Another exhibition opening Jan. 23 at the museum features Victor Ekpuk, whose work is included in the permanent collections of the World Bank and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. Ekpuk is known for his improvisational use of nsibidi – pictographs that have served as a means of written communication for centuries in West Africa and his native Nigeria. His early fascination with this encoded writing has evolved from a pedagogical environment to drawings and paintings. This exhibition, “Auto-Graphics,” will display some of his newest work, incorporating collage, digital prints and large-scale drawings, including one that he will draw directly onto the Krannert Art Museum wall during the exhibition’s opening reception on Jan. 23 at 6 p.m.
Ekpuk will return to Krannert Art Museum for a Gallery Conversation with art history professor Prita Meier and exhibition curator Allyson Purpura at 5:30 p.m. on March 13.
“Mandala Flea Market Mutants” presents the work of Yoko Inoue, a Japanese-born artist who explores the transcultural assimilation of popular objects ranging from water bottles to Hello Kitty to Buddha figurines by hand casting hybrid objects. Her installation will transform the gallery space into street vendor booths stocked with “mutant” ceramic sculptures. Inoue has been awarded numerous honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and residencies in Brazil, France, Italy and the Netherlands.
“Not Ready to Make Nice,” which was organized by Columbia College Chicago, runs through April 6. “Art as Provocation,” curated by Kathryn Koca Polite, runs through May 4. “Auto-Graphics” and “Mandala Flea Market,” also curated by Purpura, run through July 27.
Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (and till 9 p.m. on Thursdays), and 2-5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free.