Oral history interview with Guerrilla Girls Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun and Liubov Popova, 2008 Jan. 19

Guerrilla Girls (Group of artists) , est. 1985
Artists group
Active in New York, N.Y.

Size: 2 wav files (2 hr., 3 min.) digital
Transcript: 72 p.

Format: Originally recorded on 2 sound discs. Reformatted in 2010 as 2 digital wav files. Duration is 2 hr., 3 min.

Collection Summary: An interview of Guerrilla Girls using the names Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun and Liubov Popova conducted 2008 Jan. 19, by Judith Olch Richards, for the Archives of American Art, at iCI, 799 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

Biographical/Historical Note: Guerrilla Girls (est. 1985) is an anonymous group of feminist artists in New York, N.Y. Interviewer Judith Olch Richards (1947- ) is former executive director of iCI in New York, N.Y.

This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.

Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

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Interview Transcript

This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Guerrilla Girls Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun and Liubov Popova, 2008 Jan. 19, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Interview with Guerrilla Girls Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun and Liubov Popova
Conducted by Judith Olch Richards
At Independent Curators International offices in New York, New York
January 18, 2008


The following oral history transcript is the result of a digitally recorded interview with Guerrilla Girls Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun and Liubov Popova on January 19, 2008. The interview took place at Independent Curators International offices in New York, New York, and was conducted by Judith Olch Richards for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.


JUDITH RICHARDS: This is Judith Richards at iCI [Independent Curators International], 799 Broadway, on January 19, 2008, for the Archives of American Art, disc one, interviewing Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun and Liubov Popova, both Guerrilla Girls.

So, let me begin. I'm going to ask questions and it would be useful to get separate answers from each of you on those questions you want to answer. So to begin, in your experience how did the Guerrilla Girls start? - And this is -

LIUBOV POPOVA: This is my experience. I'm Liubov. This is my experience and I don't trust my memory, so you'll see how it fits with what other people say. It must have been the fall of 1984. I was at some, I think it was at the New School [New York City]. It was a large auditorium and it was a discussion and it might have been about feminism. There had been a demonstration at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art, New York City]. I didn't, I was not part of it. I knew about it and friends had participated. For whatever reason I wasn't, I did not attend it.

But people were feeling as if some of the gains of the '70s had been lost, and I was part of the women's movement in the '70s along with many women of my generation. And by the mid '80s all of the sudden there were all these all male shows and MoMA was sort of a glaring example of that.

Anyway, there was this big discussion at the New School and afterward a woman I knew, but not very well, came up to me - she became Frida in the group - and said, "We have to do something. We have to start an artist union." And I said, "Well, we can talk about it," you know. And sometime later, which I think was early 1985, we met, and I think this was the first meeting, at her loft and there were seven women there. I invited several of them and she invited several of them. And I did not know most of them, though I know them very well now. [Laughs.] And one of them was Kathe, one of them was Gertrude. And then the other three moved away or left quite early. So there are five of us who continue to have a connection to it, the others more so than myself. Four of us. Four of us: Gertrude, Kathe, Frida and myself.

MS. RICHARDS: How do you spell Kathe? Do you mean Kathe Kollwitz?

MS. POPOVA: Yeah. I left in '91 so my involvement was really in the first six years. And I was assigned the name Liubov later when they were doing this book, The Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls [New York: Harper Collins, 1995]. That's when people were given aliases. I never had one when I was in the group.

MS. RICHARDS: Let's go to -

MS. POPOVA: But to go back.


MS. POPOVA: To go back. So we had this meeting and it was very exciting and we talked about where we were now, which was -

MS. RICHARDS: And this meeting?

MS. POPOVA: Nineteen eighty-five.

MS. RICHARDS: And where did it take place?

MS. POPOVA: At Frida's studio in SoHo [New York City]. And we decided that we could not use the language of the '70s and we had to have a new image and a new kind of language to appeal to a younger generation of women who were turned off by the language of the '70s. And then we decided we had to make it funny and sexy. And we also wanted to make it in your face, and that's when we started talking about putting things in the streets. And in those days the whole art world was in SoHo.


MS. POPOVA: And there were all these construction walls and it was just easy to get the stuff in the streets really fast.

MS. RICHARDS: Perhaps before - I'll ask you a couple more questions.


MS. RICHARDS: And go back to Elisabeth. So how were -

MS. POPOVA: Who came in very shortly afterward, yeah.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. RICHARDS: So did you already answer how were you recruited?

MS. POPOVA: No. I mean, she and I sort of just talked about this and then there was this meeting.

MS. RICHARDS: Because you were such a, because you were a member before there was a group? You were an original founding member?



MS. RICHARDS: Then you weren't recruited. You -

MS. POPOVA: No. I was a founding member.

MS. RICHARDS: - were one of the founders.



MS. POPOVA: And interestingly enough - I don't know if I should put this on the tape or not, but I went to the women who had been very actively involved in the women's movement in the '70s, my colleagues and peers, and only one of them came to that first meeting. They were really burned out and disappointed. And so this was a new -

MS. RICHARDS: In the women's movement, not -

MS. POPOVA: Not in the women's movement, in - and I think this happened across the board, not just in the art world. There was so much, like in the early '70s, as you probably know, there was so much optimism, so much energy, so much enthusiasm. We were going to change the world. And by the middle '80s when there was all this backlash and rollback and everything, there was just so much demoralization that a lot of the women at that moment just couldn't do it again.

MS. RICHARDS: Maybe would you say that -

MS. POPOVA: There was one other -

MS. RICHARDS: - the rise of -

MS. POPOVA: - who is actually now in her 80s who was at the first meeting and was a founding member.

MS. RICHARDS: Would you say that the rise of the Guerrilla Girls at that moment then had even more impact because it was happening at a point where women perhaps felt that they were powerless or that it was -

MS. POPOVA: Yes, because -

MS. RICHARDS: That activism had died?

MS. POPOVA: No, and I think there was this attitude that, "Oh, well, we did that. That's done. That's taken care of. We don't have those problems anymore." And when we put these statistics out people were shocked because they thought the problem had gone away. And the statistics were brought out in the early '70s but it hadn't been done, you know. It's like reinventing the wheel. I mean, a lot of the things that the Guerrilla Girls did had been done by feminist groups earlier but with a different language and a different style.

MS. RICHARDS: Could you go back and say how did you get your name?

MS. POPOVA: I left the group in '91, not out of any disagreement or anything. I just, I burned out and I was very busy with other things. And I kept a connection to it. But when I was in the group we didn't have aliases. But when they were doing this group, this book, Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, later in the ninety -

MS. RICHARDS: When was that published?

MS. POPOVA: It was published in '95, so it was worked on in the early '90s. Because there were so many voices they decided - by that time a number of people had aliases for public appearances. They decided that everyone who was going to have a voice in the book should have a name.

MS. RICHARDS: So how long did the group exist before there were aliases?

MS. POPOVA: I don't know.

MS. RICHARDS: So you left in?

MS. POPOVA: In '91.

MS. RICHARDS: It started in '85?


MS. RICHARDS: You left in '91 and still there were no aliases?

MS. POPOVA: I didn't have one. I don't know if other people did.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, I would say about '92, '93 we got aliases. It was when we started lecturing.

MS. RICHARDS: This is Elisabeth speaking.


MS. RICHARDS: Elisabeth, why don't you now talk about how did you, how did the Guerrilla Girls start in your - mind.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, I think also at that same New Museum [Manhattan] talk that Liubov was at. It wasn't Frida who actually thought of the idea. It was one of the other founding members who wasn't active very long. And it was actually her -

MS. RICHARDS: When you say thought of the idea so -

MS. POPOVA: Of the artists' union or -

MS. LEBRUN: Of the artists' union, mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. RICHARDS: Okay. She thought of the artists' union?

MS. LEBRUN: She thought of the idea.

MS. POPOVA: Okay, maybe the two of them came up to me.


MS. POPOVA: And then, and she was one of the founding members.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. It was actually her idea.


MS. LEBRUN: And I didn't know that until we had done a recording just recently.

MS. RICHARDS: The idea was exactly what?

MS. LEBRUN: This other woman painter was sitting there and she was really saying it was so unfair that all these painters were being shown at MoMA. They were all men. And she said, you know, "We should really start really coming back and doing something about this." And I believe it was this woman painter who said, "We just must start an artists' union."

MS. POPOVA: We should find out what her alias is and put her name on this tape.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. Yes, I'll find out what her alias is. She was not active very long, maybe a year at most. But I think she was a very important member because of that. She was the one who really sort of, she got burned out really quickly because it was so much effort. I think really in those first seven years was a tremend -, it was almost like having a full time job and there weren't a tremendous amount of us.


MS. LEBRUN: There was maybe, it felt like there were 10 of us, maybe 14.

MS. POPOVA: And postering. There was a period of time -

MS. RICHARDS: Let me go back for a second. So, Elisabeth.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, so sorry.

MS. RICHARDS: How did you get recruited?

MS. LEBRUN: So, yeah, they, it seems that - you know, I can't really remember exactly how. All of the sudden I remember, I just remember - I guess I really don't remember how I got. I was in a lot of, I was very active in the art world at that point in getting groups together because I had gotten a group of all these sculptors together where we would go to different - because not very much sculpture was being shown at that time. So I thought, "Well, let's at least all get together as a group."

So what we would do is we would go to different homes once a month and we would show slides. And anybody could come. We did a potluck thing. Everybody had to bring one friend. There were about 30 of us and we would just go to each other's lofts and bring slides and let the slides project on the wall. If you saw someone's work you liked you found out who they were. And everybody brought someone like a writer or a curator, and it was really lots of fun.

And then I had a very serious group where we went around to studios once a month and we really [critiqued?] each other's work very intensely and really hard core, and it was very painful. That was the painful group. And then I guess when I went to that loft I met so many people within a year and that started really in about '83.

MS. RICHARDS: Eighty -

MS. LEBRUN: '83 these other two groups started. And then it must have been early '85.

MS. RICHARDS: How many years out of school were you?

MS. LEBRUN: I finished school in '78, undergraduate. Yeah, so I never went to graduate school. So and then in early '85 I think - I remember it was cold - I went to my first meeting. So it must have been - and one of the members was moving to California, so -

MS. POPOVA: Mm hmm, mm hmm. [Affirmative.] No, that would have been early '86.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, okay.

MS. POPOVA: It would have been early '86.

MS. LEBRUN: So maybe that's when. I'm -

MS. POPOVA: That's Kathe.


MS. POPOVA: And she continued being part of the group from California.


MS. POPOVA: Or maybe that reveals too much.

MS. RICHARDS: When you joined the group and you, so you don't remember exactly being recruited. What was the -

MS. LEBRUN: I don't. I don't even remember [inaudible] -

MS. RICHARDS: - concept of bringing new members to the group at that point if you called it recruited? How were new members brought in? Just speak about other people, not just yourself.

MS. LEBRUN: There was just - see, I just remember going to a meeting at a loft on Canal Street which was -

MS. POPOVA: Kathe.

MS. LEBRUN: Kathe's loft. And we went there and there was, I think, five of us. And everybody was burned out completely from the first group. And I don't know why I think it's '85 but maybe -

MS. POPOVA: Maybe it was winter '85.


MS. POPOVA: Late '85.


MS. POPOVA: Because she moved a year after we started the group to [inaudible] I know that.

MS. LEBRUN: Okay. Okay, so maybe that was it.


MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. So that was - because, okay, yeah, that would make sense.

MS. RICHARDS: And was there at the very beginning a sense that you wanted to recruit new members?

MS. LEBRUN: They had to, because everybody was burned out and they really, they needed help, and especially with the physical work of it. And I lived down in SoHo and -

MS. POPOVA: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.] Most of us did.

MS. LEBRUN: Most of us did. And that was really also key, because we were doing all the, I won't say wallpapering, all the postering. And so it was very convenient to go out the middle of the night and do the postering there. And they knew I stayed up most nights so that was very convenient. [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: I'm nocturnal too. [Laughs.]


MS. POPOVA: We've got a lot of nocturnals.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, a lot. [Laughs.]

MS. RICHARDS: So once someone joined was there any conversation about how long a person would serve as a member of the group?

MS. LEBRUN: It was not that formal at all. It was much more informal and it was way beyond us. It was, when you joined I remember that first meeting where there were just about, there was maybe four. I don't remember you there at the first meeting but I remember going to your loft not long after. And I remember them saying on this first meeting that we were sworn to secrecy, that there weren't very many of us. And I was shocked at how few there were, because it was such a big presence.

You know, they'd done a number of posters - and it was - and I remember that they had said that this was, the most important thing was that none of us would - at least this is my memory. That none of us would - it wasn't about us. It wasn't about you, it wasn't - and that the first movement hadn't worked because they had focused on particular women like Judy Chicago, and they had ripped her as a personality to shreds. And they'd done this to a number of the early feminists. And they'd taken them as examples and just, you know, really gone into their lives when it was about the movement. And so they wanted to keep this about the movement of just the woman not showing. And I thought -

MS. RICHARDS: Do you think that this form -

MS. POPOVA: Can I add something?

MS. RICHARDS: - of anonymity was new? Was there a model for that kind of activist format?

MS. POPOVA: This came out right at the beginning. Since I'd been and one of the other people in the original group had been in the movement in the '70s I didn't, it wasn't because she was ripped apart. It was because the women's movement became identified with certain artists and we wanted to keep the attention on the issues. That's all.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. That's better said. Sorry.

MS. POPOVA: You know, and it wasn't because we were afraid for our careers, which everybody thought, you know, they were afraid of reprisals. It wasn't about that, not for me and I don't think for the others either. But everybody thought that. It was, I know I felt very strongly, having been through it before, that, you know, we didn't want to create art stars, that we really wanted people to look at across the board sexism. And so all the media focused on our anonymity, and it was a new thing. I mean, I'm sure it had been done in other ways and other times, but for this kind of a group it was a new thing. A lot of the newspaper articles would speculate about who we were, and always wrong.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. That was the funny part.

MS. POPOVA: Always wrong. They would speculate and they would name women and they would never be the ones.

MS. LEBRUN: And you know what I thought was really interesting was this month in Artforum Rob Storr wrote that letter, that article.

MS. RICHARDS: "This" month. Which month?

MS. LEBRUN: I'm sorry. January.

MS. POPOVA: Yes, I read it.

MS. LEBRUN: Of what is this?

MS. RICHARDS: Two thousand and eight.

MS. LEBRUN: Two thousand and eight, thank you. Did you read that?

MS. POPOVA: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. LEBRUN: It was - and I thought it was really quite, it reminded me so much of the women's movement because he kept saying all these articles that came out kept talking about me and what I did and didn't talk about the art work, didn't even - so few of the artists were mentioned. And I thought how great that he pointed that out. And that was what was the problem with that first women's art movement was that they talked - that's what I was trying to say about ripping the women apart.

MS. POPOVA: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. LEBRUN: That they just talked about the personalities of the women as opposed to talking about the movement. And that's what we were trying to do with the Guerrilla Girls. We were trying to say, "These are the issues, these are the facts, talk about them. Don't talk about the women behind it. We're not important. What we're trying to say is these are the issues that you should be dealing with." And by remaining anonymous they couldn't get at us. It was about these issues. And that's why I thought the thing was so brilliant. And doing it with humor was my favorite thing because if you can laugh about something that is the most brilliant because a laugh makes everybody feel a part of the inside joke. And especially if you can laugh at yourself. Nothing is more wonderful.

MS. POPOVA: But we humiliated people in the early posters and people were enraged. They went up all over SoHo. These posters said these galleries do not show women. These male artists are in galleries that don't show women. And some of these guys thought they were good guys, you know. And those were the first two posters I think that went up. And they were very, very prominent. There were all these construction walls, you know, that we just covered them with. And, you know, they came down within a few days but everybody saw them. We liked to put them up on Friday night because Saturday was when -

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. That was always so fun.

MS. POPOVA: - everybody went around to the galleries.

MS. RICHARDS: Who decided, how was it decided what subject would be addressed on the poster? Who decided who would gather the information? Who would write the text? And who would design?

MS. POPOVA: I just want to go back to the question of how we recruited members. I don't think there was any process. I think that somebody said they had a friend they wanted to bring, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: [Laughs.] Nothing was done like formally.

MS. POPOVA: It wasn't like a sorority where we voted on people. But later I heard that people were, like. really upset they'd never been invited.


MS. POPOVA: You know, it was nothing that formal.


MS. RICHARDS: So in your view someone, well, no one could volunteer because you wouldn't know who to speak to.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, yes. I actually did the mail for seven years so I, people would write us and say - they would write us. It was heartbreaking to do the mail. Nobody wanted to do it. I did the mail and all the banking, which was like, which I realized later were kind of like -

MS. RICHARDS: This is Elisabeth speaking.

MS. LEBRUN: This is Elisabeth speaking. And I did that because I could do it really late at night and it was a very solitary job. It was a lot of work but it was very private. But they would write and they were heartbreaking letters, and they would send slides and images and ask for help. And a lot of people sent money. There was a lot of money sent to us from men and women, but mostly women. But a lot of people wanted to join and they wanted to know how to join. And I remember there was a couple letters we got that would pay us if they could join, you know, and things of that nature and stuff. And I wrote everybody back and thanked them or did whatever was appropriate for each letter. But that was, but no, it was just - and there were no ground rules. It was just a fly by the seat kind of thing.

And choosing the jobs for it, we would just get these meetings together and someone would come up with an idea and we would all pass it around. And then whoever was good at research would do the research and then we would check different things. And then some people would put the - we would all decide on how it would be said. And then someone else would do the type. You know, we just would all do what we were, like. kind of good at. And certain people did certain things and it just kind of fell that way.

MS. POPOVA: Oh, I wanted to explain to you how we did the research, at least in the early years. So I think you asked how we decided what to do. Just by talking, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. It was small then.

MS. POPOVA: So we decided we wanted to have a list of critics who hadn't written about women artists. So I think we had 10 members and we each had 10 people to look up, and we went to the library. We all went to the library together and we just looked through their writings and did a record of that. And who the galleries represented, I think we went to the Art in America annual -

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, yes.

MS. POPOVA: - publication and we counted. And for the museums, you know, we went into their archives and we just counted the shows they had. So but we all did it. We divided it up.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, yeah.

MS. POPOVA: We each got our list of people we had to research.


MS. POPOVA: And, you know, people were angry but they never, ever found our statistics to be wrong, which was interesting.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, we were pretty - yeah.

MS. POPOVA: I mean, we never were -

MS. LEBRUN: I don't think we were ever incorrect.

MS. POPOVA: - incorrect. It's not that difficult, really, to find out that stuff.

MS. LEBRUN: And we just made everything really simple. Like when we would have meetings Liubov would call me and I would call the next person and we would just do this chain and say when the meeting was. It was just real -

MS. POPOVA: Oh, right.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, because we didn't even have the e mail then. You know, you just didn't have these things.

MS. POPOVA: Right.

MS. LEBRUN: So we just made everything very simple.

MS. POPOVA: So one person didn't have to make all the calls.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, because, you know, we were all busy. We all had jobs. We all had our art careers.

MS. POPOVA: Some of us had families.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, yes. And at one point it started, it did start to escalate and when we started getting a lot of money from other sources we did have to get an account. And I remember that was really [inaudible] because then we had to put someone's Social Security number on it and nobody wanted to do that. And my husband works at a bank, a savings and loan, and so I said, "Well, okay, then I'll do it," because I figured at least he could kind of watch it. And we were very careful about remaining anonymous because we really didn't want anyone to find out because we really did want to keep the issues the most important. And we had to pay the printers. There was a lot of payment that we had to do. And there were checks coming in because we put our P.O. Box, and we had to cash them and they were made out to the Guerrilla Girls. So we had to have this account.

So I went up and signed up for a checking account with the Guerrilla Girls. And I was doing the signature cards and the bank person asked me, "Well, what does this group do?" And it never had occurred to me that she would ask. And I looked up at her and I remember thinking, "We're a bowling league. We're a bowling league." - [Laughs] - and she said, "Where do you bowl?" And I thought, "Oh, God, where is there a bowling alley here?" And I said, "Well, we're kind of a little retarded group. We all want to bowl but we don't have the courage to bowl yet." And I said, "So we get together and we talk about bowling but we are going to get to bowl this year." I said, "We're really struggling with this issue." And I'm thinking, "This woman must think I am so," and I remember thinking this is like the weirdest thing. And she just looked at me like, "Are you for real or what?" You know, and -

MS. POPOVA: Get her out of here.

MS. LEBRUN: I know. And my husband works at this bank and I'm thinking, "Oh, God, this is not going well." And so then when I went to the printer to pay the printer I signed the check and then I went the second time to pay the -

MS. RICHARDS: You signed it Guerrilla Girls?

MS. LEBRUN: No, I had to sign it [inaudible] my name. And so then the second time I went to pay she was printing the posters and she said, the printer said to me, Elisabeth, "Boy, someone was in here and saw we were printing your posters and said, 'I'll give you $100 if you tell me who one of the people is.'" And she said, "Oh, better than that, I'll sell you their checks." And all of the sudden it dawned on me, "Oh, gosh, I'm signing this name." And I'm laughing with her and I said, "Well," I said, "I hope you make it really worth your while." And I remember the check was for $75. So without hesitation I signed the check Mary Boone and I gave her the check. And that's when I started signing these checks Leo Castelli, you know.

I was signing them with every art star, anybody in the art world that I wanted. I was signing everything. And it was like Marian Goodman, you know [inaudible] you know, it was just everybody who was anybody I would sign the check for about six months. And then my husband got called in from the president of the bank and said, "What is your wife running here? She opens up this account called the Guerrilla Girls and there's over 100 different people signing on this account." And my husband is like, "Oh, I had no idea. I'm so very sorry. My wife is very creative and she just, she has this group and they're a dysfunctional bowling league and I will make sure that, you know, that they settle down." And so he comes home and he says, "You can't do that anymore." So I said, "Oh, but what do I do? It's terrible. We have to do something."

So what I did was my initials were very similar to Paula Cooper's initials so I signed it with a "P" and kind of sort of then a "C" and kind of, and that's how we ended up doing the checking account for a long time. So -

MS. POPOVA: Well, you know, we did one poster saying all these women are Guerrilla Girls and we had like 100 names on it. And we just wrote, sent a postcard out to every woman artist and asked them if they would sign, put their name on the poster. And that's what we did.


MS. POPOVA: And all our names were on it but we were a very small percentage. Maybe there were 200 or 300 names. There were hundreds of names.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, yes.

MS. POPOVA: Five hundred names, I don't know. Very small. But basically what we said when people asked us is that all women are Guerrilla Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: Does the issue of anonymity keep coming up now when past members' biographies are written or they want to record their life or they pass away? What's the group's official stance? I mean, I realize the original group doesn't exist but how did that evolve? Did it change?

MS. POPOVA: I wanted to say something about the early years. Maybe there were 10 of us, but there were a lot of people who knew who we were. I mean, we each had a few personal friends who knew who we trusted, right?


MS. POPOVA: I mean, let's be real.

MS. LEBRUN: Or assistants that worked for us.

MS. POPOVA: Yes, or -

MS. LEBRUN: Who saw stuff on our desk.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah. I mean, so let's say there were 100 people maybe, or 50 people who knew who at least some of us were. And I think there was a closing of the ranks in the community because none of our names ever got into the press.


MS. POPOVA: And a lot of people knew who at least some of us were.


MS. POPOVA: I mean, if I revealed that I was involved to friends I wouldn't reveal your name or someone else's name.

MS. LEBRUN: No. No, no, no.

MS. POPOVA: But still, it could have gotten out and it didn't. I think we had a lot of protection.


MS. POPOVA: People didn't want it to come out. They understood that that would have been the end of it.

MS. LEBRUN: And then as the years went on then the group grew, because people did burn out.

MS. POPOVA: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. LEBRUN: And also the work increased because lecturing started. There was just a lot more activity, it seemed, when they wanted to start to do the books, the Whitney [Museum of American Art, New York City] show. You know, we started doing a lot of activities. There was a lot of dissention too, because there was a lot of discussion about gender issues, about if we should get into race issues. And there was a lot of really hurt feelings and a lot of deep discussions that really made all of us pause, I think, especially in deals with race and gender, way before the art world started dealing with these issues. And I think we made a lot of mistakes. I think, I think -

MS. RICHARDS: For example.

MS. LEBRUN: I think we should have gotten into the issues of race and gender, and we didn't.

MS. POPOVA: Earlier.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. And we didn't. And I think this was a big issue and I think we lost a couple of key members because of that. And I feel bad that I wasn't even stronger for it. I was, I sat on the fence with it because a lot of people felt that if we veered away from just dealing with the issue of women and if we went into all these other segues that it would muddy the waters. And I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure. And I think we lost two really good members because of it and now I really regret that. And the whole gender thing, the same. The same. And I think that -

MS. RICHARDS: What do you mean by "gender thing"?

MS. LEBRUN: They wanted to really talk about -

MS. POPOVA: Sexual identity.

MS. LEBRUN: - sexual identity. And I guess I never thought of it as a big issue because it -

MS. RICHARDS: In the art world?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. But it turned out that for them it really is.

MS. RICHARDS: To go back to the individual level, Elisabeth, you talked about having a role as the bookkeeper and the secretary. Liub -

MS. POPOVA: Liubov.

MS. RICHARDS: Liubov, how would you describe your focus?

MS. POPOVA: Okay, I - there was a period of time when I was the press agent. I'd talk to people on the phone in the press, anonymously. I mean, my phone number was on press releases. And I did that a lot for a period of time. And also, a lot of the postering happened out of my loft for a period of time and then other lofts because I burned out. Because you'd have to be up all night mixing buckets of wheat paste and people would come in and take them into the street and it was cold. I remember the gloves. And then they'd come back in and I'd give them hot chocolate and they'd warm up and they'd go back out. And I did it too, but a lot of times my loft was sort of the base for that.

MS. LEBRUN: The central.

MS. POPOVA: But then I can remember several other lofts. We did out of Kathe's, I mean Frida's.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: And we did it out of, I don't know what her alias was. On West Broadway.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.] I don't know what her - I don't know the aliases real well.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, we don't know the aliases. But yeah, those are the things I remember doing.

MS. RICHARDS: Did the group during the time you were both members, was comprised entirely of New York City members?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, we did an outreach. We did a postcard that we sent to women artists we knew all over the country urging them to start their own groups and to deal - because a lot of letters would come in from people in, you know, Kansas, wanting to join us.


MS. POPOVA: And we said, "Start your own groups but deal with the issues in your city. Do your own research and really - you can use us as a role model but we don't want franchises. We can't handle that. Just do your own thing."

MS. LEBRUN: And in Europe, too.


MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, Europe and -

MS. RICHARDS: Did that ever - happen?

MS. POPOVA: Yes, there were groups.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, yes.

MS. POPOVA: In a number of other cities, yeah.

MS. RICHARDS: In Europe?

MS. LEBRUN: In Europe, too. Yes, yes. And you know, it wasn't like we kept records of all that.


MS. LEBRUN: We just would -

MS. POPOVA: There was a group in Chicago.


MS. POPOVA: There was a group in San Francisco. And there was a group somewhere in the Southwest.

MS. LEBRUN: And I can't really remember, but I remember -

MS. POPOVA: But I - In Texas. Texas.


MS. POPOVA: There was a group in Texas. There was a group in San Francisco that was active for a long time. And there was a group in Chicago. And they'd send us stuff about their stuff.

MS. LEBRUN: Stuff, yeah. And I would keep it.

MS. POPOVA: And they, you know, they got the press in their cities.

MS. LEBRUN: It's with all the archives.



MS. POPOVA: And I know I spoke to a woman who wanted to start a group in Italy but she wasn't able to get it off the ground. She tried.

MS. RICHARDS: So during those years when you were members you were focused entirely on the art world.



MS. RICHARDS: Later that changed. And what kind of discussions were there about that, was it just - non [inaudible].

MS. LEBRUN: Very heated discussions. It was - and at that point the group was getting bigger. I would say that was more about '95, '96 and the group was getting much bigger at that point. And they meetings were more in - it seemed like the group had swelled to maybe 20 people or twenty -

I think there were 25 of us but maybe 17 would show up for the meetings and what have you. At least that's my memory. And they were much more heated because then they were getting into issues of pornography and going into that world. And there was a huge division in the - and I was kind of shocked of what the group thought women could and should be allowed to do, which shocked me because I was kind of like, well, women can do whatever they want to do. And this group felt so - that was kind of where I thought, "I'm not sure I want to be a part of this any longer," because people felt that they - some people felt that they could not choose to be prostitutes if they wanted to, or choose to be topless dancers, and that they were thrown into that kind of life. And it was really strange. It was a strange time.

MS. POPOVA: What year did you leave?

MS. LEBRUN: I started to phase out about '95 and by '97 I think I was totally gone. But that isn't what made me leave.

MS. POPOVA: You see, I don't know anything about this period.


MS. RICHARDS: Do you perceive that those other issues came up because the group had solved some art world problems and they felt that there wasn't as much of a necessity to focus exclusively on that?

MS. LEBRUN: I think things started to change. You know what started to change was it was no longer like this - I think some of the problems started to change. Yes, some of the issues that we had started, it was kind of like when we began it seemed to me there was almost like no, like the statistics were horrible and we were fighting everything. And we had no money. We had no money. There was no seed money. There was nothing. We had to contribute a lot of times like to, like sometimes we didn't have enough for all the posters. And I even remember when I would get a little grant or something I would give a little bit of my money to the GGs because it just felt like that was right. And I was always so glad when we would get checks or whatever. And then when we started to get grants that was like so great.

But then when we started to get substantial money for lecturing and then when we started selling the posters - one of the GGs brilliantly thought to sell the posters to museums and she really took that under her belt and really did an excellent job at that. When the money started really rolling in that's when things changed. And that really saddened me because I was the treasurer for a long time and that, I saw the change.

And what happened was it was little bits of money and then all of the sudden women were paid. The ones that got paid were not the ones who did the research. And it wasn't like we all went to the library and did this glorious thing anymore. Now it was the ones who did the library - it was much more segregated. So certain people went to the library who were really good at it. Other ones went on the road and did the lectures. And then other ones did the posters and did the printing. It became very segregated because we had, we were much more efficient. We were much more computerized. We were much more - there were more of us, right.

But in doing that, the ones who got paid were the ones who were the show people, the ones that went on the road. Because it was, that's where the biggest money came in, right. So they got paid but the poor people doing the research got nothing even though it took them a lot of time. So they felt really upset, right. So then people were starting to - and I was paying people. So money would come in and I would pay people. But people were allowed to give me their bills for just like whatever they had to do. So if people were making a lot of phone calls they could give me their bills or whatever. But then they started padding their bills or doing this and I would say, "No, you can't." And so then I was having to play cop and I did not like this role at all. And we had no rules or regulations because we never started with any.

And so then I was getting really uncomfortable and I would have to go to each girl individually and I'd have to say, you know, "This doesn't seem quite right to me. Are you sure you spent this?" And stuff like that. And they'd be, they'd get really incensed and they'd say, "But so and so goes on the road and she gets this." And I'd be like, "Yes, I realize that, but we agreed to that. But this doesn't seem quite right to me." And I did that like about four or five times and I thought, "I'm resigning from this job. I'm not going to play this mother." So I went to Gertrude and I said, "Gertrude, this is happening."

MS. LEBRUN: And I tried to bring it up in a couple meetings and everybody was like, "Just pay them." And I'm like, "I don't want my name on this. I don't feel comfortable doing this." So I turned it over to the GGs. And then the whole thing about women just - when they started saying that people could only do certain things, or at least that's how I read it, women couldn't do certain jobs or whatever. I just, I don't know.

MS. RICHARDS: So money corrupts.

MS. LEBRUN: It felt to me as if it was and it felt very hierarchical, you know, like certain people wanted credit for certain things. And it just didn't feel like it had started. And I thought, well, maybe I'm getting too old. Maybe I'm getting too cranky. And maybe I've been in this - because it was 10 or 12 years and I thought maybe it's time I pass it on to the next generation. And, and -

MS. RICHARDS: You started in 1986?

MS. LEBRUN: Eighty-five or '86, whatever it was, yeah.

MS. POPOVA: That's a long time.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. So I figured it's time for me to pass it on. I was getting very busy with my own things, so.

MS. POPOVA: I wanted to go back and tell you about the origin of the mask.

MS. RICHARDS: Yes, and I wanted to ask about the origin and the feeling of calling yourselves girls.

MS. POPOVA: That was part of, I think it was the first meeting when we chose our name. Or maybe the second meeting. But I can remember it being in her loft and I think it -

MS. RICHARDS: This is the moment when you evolved from a union?

MS. POPOVA: Somehow the union went by the wayside. [They laugh.] I don't know. I don't think that was discussed very long. I couldn't understand why it wasn't but, anyway, we got onto this other idea. They said they wanted it to not sound like the '70s and it should be sexy and funny and everything and somebody came up with Guerrilla Girls. And because women would never call themselves girls, you know, and so this was a total reversal of the language. And then the mask idea came up because we had to be anonymous, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: And we started wearing them first when we were [inaudible]-

MS. POPOVA: But what happened was I invited a friend of mine to join the group very early. She was there at the third or fourth meeting or something. And she was making masks as her own art. And she left New York and wasn't in the group that long and I don't know what her alias was or even if she ever had one.

MS. LEBRUN: If she had one. [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: But she didn't spell very well and she visualized a gorilla when I said that our name was Guerrilla Girls and that we were going to be anonymous. And she came to the meeting with a gorilla mask.

[They laugh.]

MS. POPOVA: Now, I don't know if other people remember it exactly that way. It would be great for someone to interview her about that because she's never really even in the group been acknowledged.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, yeah.

MS. RICHARDS: So you wanted to talk about, was that -

MS. POPOVA: That's it. Do you know who I'm talking about?

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. RICHARDS: Have - and how did it go wearing those masks, and how did that feel?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, that's another thing. We had to go shopping for them and we had to find out who the distributors were. And I remember that. I remember going to party stores, Halloween stores, costume stores. And then we found a very good place that we got, you know, a reduced rate because we bought a lot of them.

MS. RICHARDS: So the idea was that they would be identical masks?


MS. POPOVA: No, they're all different.

MS. LEBRUN: We wanted to be individuals.

MS. POPOVA: It was whatever we could find. [They laugh.]

MS. LEBRUN: Originally we got a lot of them so that we could poster at night, because we were being recognized on the streets of SoHo.

MS. POPOVA: That's right.

MS. LEBRUN: When we were postering, even though we did it really - because people were kind of waiting for us on Friday nights a bit. And -

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, and also it was a small community.

MS. LEBRUN: It's very small.

MS. POPOVA: The art world was small and it was really all around SoHo. And - yeah, that's -

MS. LEBRUN: At two and three in the morning.

MS. POPOVA: That was way before the public appearances. You're right.


MS. POPOVA: You're right.

MS. RICHARDS: Those theatrical costume store masks must have been very uncomfortable.

MS. LEBRUN: Hot as heck. Hot.

MS. RICHARDS: Did you ever decide to make a more comfortable one?


MS. LEBRUN: No. We never had the time.

MS. POPOVA: What's the name of the store right over here where we got most of them?

MS. LEBRUN: I don't know the name of it.

MS. POPOVA: It's a sci fi store right up on Broadway.


MS. POPOVA: I think it's still there.


MS. POPOVA: That's where we got most of them.


MS. POPOVA: They had a good selection.

MS. RICHARDS: It's still there?


MS. LEBRUN: And also the police wouldn't bother us quite as much when we did it, because we got picked up once or twice.

MS. POPOVA: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. RICHARDS: Did you ever get ticketed or arrested?

MS. LEBRUN: One time they put us in their car and drove us when we were -

MS. RICHARDS: You personally?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, when we were doing West Broadway. Because West Broadway was off- limits. They actually had an undercover man that used to sit on West Broadway. And I think it was Leo Castelli who used to hire him.

MS. POPOVA: Well they had their own, the galleries had their own security people. It was much harder on West Broadway, you're right.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. You couldn't do West Broadway, poster there.

MS. POPOVA: I was never picked up but the couple times we were asked to dump the buckets and if they saw us again they'd arrest us.


MS. POPOVA: But the time it happened to -

MS. RICHARDS: With your masks on - that happened?

MS. POPOVA: I don't remember. The time I remember was near the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City]. We did venture uptown near the museums sometimes and it was much harder there. And we'd do the East Village too, because the East Village was happening at that time.

MS. LEBRUN: Okay, see, I always did SoHo.


MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. But the one time they picked us up they just drove us and gave us a little lecture and told us not to do it again. And so then if we wore the mask they thought it was actually funny, the police did, and then they would like, you know, say, "Now, now, you're not supposed to do that." And we'd be saying, "But, you know, they just never - "

MS. RICHARDS: They treated it like a prank?

MS. LEBRUN: They did, and they thought it was really funny. And I'd say, "But, you know, we're trying so hard to get somebody to show us." And they'd say, "But if you go home and work on your art maybe someone would show you." I'd go, "Oh, that's such a great idea. Thank you." You know, I'd be like trying to play into it, you know. And so then they wouldn't arrest us.

MS. RICHARDS: Did you, when you had a meeting did you discuss the effectiveness of the posters and analyze that in a way to determine which direction to go?

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: Absolutely, absolutely and some were much more effective than others. And I think as time went on we came to understand which ones had been more effective than others. And I also remember discussions, and again, I only know about the early years. There was a feeling among some of the members in the original group that you had to stick with the facts and that getting into anything else was too amorphous. Just stick with the facts, stick with the facts. And I remember one of the first times we broke with that was the - what did we call it? We called it something. - It's become our most famous poster.

MS. RICHARDS: The [Jean Auguste Dominique] Ingres inspired one?

MS. LEBRUN: The which one?

MS. RICHARDS: The Ingres, the How to Get in the Metropolitan [New York City]?

MS. POPOVA: The Advantages [The Advantages of Being a Women Artist, 1989] poster. The Advantages poster actually -

MS. RICHARDS: What year was that?

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, gosh.

MS. POPOVA: That came out of - very changed, but it came out of an experience I had where I had a residency in the Middle West and the people -

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, yes. [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: - there were men. And we were all middle aged, the men and I, but each one of them had a 20 year old student with him and a wife at home. And [laughs] it was really difficult living in this house with these couples.

[They laugh.]

MS. RICHARDS: Living in a house?

MS. POPOVA: Yes. The artist houses. I don't want to get into it because it reveals peoples' identity.


MS. POPOVA: But - and then I started thinking about the perks of being a male artist and I wanted to talk about that in a poster. And people said, "No, no, no, we have to stick with facts. These are not facts." But then everybody started playing with it and people who are a lot wittier than I sort of turned it into a negative rather than, and making it funny, you know. Which is what we always did. We developed a certain style of saying things but saying them in a kind of perverse way. And that was, I think, one of the first ones that broke with these are the facts, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: And I think it's over time been our most popular poster.


MS. RICHARDS: When did you call yourselves the "conscience of the art world"?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, I think right in the beginning.

MS. LEBRUN: In the beginning, yeah.

MS. RICHARDS: That's printed on that poster, so we've got -

MS. POPOVA: It's printed on all of them.


MS. POPOVA: It was printed on everything that we had.

MS. RICHARDS: Your tag line.

MS. POPOVA: Yes, that was our tag line. Yeah.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, our tag line. [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: I don't know what year that was.

MS. RICHARDS: You went back and you were talking about picking up this sense of the '80s and the girls. And how did it work in that some Guerrilla Girls wore short skirts and high heels and played on that kind of, that image?

MS. LEBRUN: I think because we wanted not to be like these - we wanted to be really sexy and that was fine, too. You could be whatever you wanted to be. You know, you could be anything and be a Guerrilla Girl. You could be male and be a Guerrilla Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: Did you [inaudible] next question.

MS. POPOVA: I think we didn't want to be the stereotype that people had about feminists, that feminists were ugly.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. You say it much better than I do.

MS. POPOVA: No, no, no.

MS. LEBRUN: That's right.

MS. POPOVA: That feminists were ugly and feminists weren't feminine or something.


MS. POPOVA: But not everybody dressed that way. Some people wore just a black suit. But the women who liked wearing fishnet hose and stiletto heels and miniskirts wore them.

MS. LEBRUN: And there were many of them.

[They laugh.]

MS. RICHARDS: You mentioned men. What was the policy on male members?

MS. LEBRUN: We never had any, but we love men [laughs].

MS. RICHARDS: Did you ever discuss it?

MS. LEBRUN: Well, we had a couple honorary men.

MS. POPOVA: We did?

MS. LEBRUN: Well, Omar did a lot - oops. Some people did a lot of help behind the scenes. A lot of our husbands I think did a lot of stuff for us. But no, there were never any men that were Guerrilla Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: So going back to the discussions focusing on other issues besides the art world in your experience, I think, Elisabeth. Were you in the group when actions were developed to focus on other issues? I know it was many years later that Hollywood was the attention and focus. But when you were in the group what happened with issues of race and gender and did actions occur and what were those?

MS. LEBRUN: They did eventually, but I feel too late. Too late. Yeah, what were you going to say?

MS. POPOVA: I was going to say I think the first ones were in '91 during the Gulf War, the first posters that weren't about the art world. About women in the military, and I don't -

MS. LEBRUN: And I think that was okay, but I think we made a mistake by not in the '80s addressing issues of race and gender.

MS. POPOVA: I don't think those were our most successful posters.


MS. POPOVA: Those posters during the Gulf War. But there must have been a strong feeling that we should talk about that.

MS. RICHARDS: Were - did anyone think that okay, a group wants to deal with other issues so there will be the Guerrilla Girls to focus on art and you form another group to focus on something else? And that will be your -

MS. LEBRUN: There were spin offs. Is that what you mean? At that point, yes, right away. Yes.

MS. RICHARDS: I mean, to deal with the division, form another group?


MS. POPOVA: There was a group of black women artists who broke away. We had, one of our members left and started a group with other African American women artists called Pests.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, and then there was another one called - what was the other one called?

MS. POPOVA: Godzilla?

MS. LEBRUN: Godzilla.

MS. RICHARDS: Did they break away?

MS. POPOVA: Godzilla. Godzilla still exists. That's Asian women.


MS. RICHARDS: Did Pests break away to continue to deal with art issues but focus on issues of women of color?


MS. LEBRUN: Yes. Yes.

MS. POPOVA: And I don't think they lasted very long.

MS. LEBRUN: No, they didn't. But they, yeah. But that was -

MS. RICHARDS: And Godzilla?

MS. LEBRUN: And Godzilla also broke away.

MS. POPOVA: Is Godzilla just women? I think so. Are they still -

MS. LEBRUN: I don't think so.

MS. POPOVA: Oh, really?

MS. LEBRUN: I don't think so.

MS. POPOVA: But it's Asian artists and they still exist.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. Yes. No, because I went to one of their meetings or two of their meetings and I don't think they were just women.

MS. RICHARDS: Do you think the group expected to be successful?

MS. LEBRUN: Which one?

MS. RICHARDS: When you were -

MS. POPOVA: Initially, oh, I think we were shocked by the amount of attention we got. It was overwhelming. It's like we were rock stars, you know. And -

MS. LEBRUN: - yeah - hadn't expected it.

MS. POPOVA: In this anonymous life, not in our real lives.


[They laugh.]

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. Yeah.

MS. RICHARDS: And how did that success affect the group?

MS. LEBRUN: I think poorly.

[They laugh.]

MS. RICHARDS: It didn't empower you, it -

MS. LEBRUN: Well -

MS. POPOVA: Putting on the mask empowers you. Putting on the mask is incredibly empowering. You can say things in public in the mask that you just wouldn't be able to say without it.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. Yes, I think that's very true. It's been, I feel, personally I feel very badly because I wish in some ways I could roll back the clock and film it and show that film to everyone now because along with an emotional pitch of what that was like, because I believe everybody's forgotten why we started and with the same moral conscience of which we started. It wasn't about us. It wasn't for gain financially. It wasn't for our individual careers. It was really this moral issue and for the betterment of all of us. And I think everyone's forgotten that and now everyone's trying to grab at what they can get for themselves financially, emotionally and otherwise. And this has been really heartbreaking to watch.

MS. RICHARDS: When you were involved you were talking about posters but you also mentioned members who performed and lectured.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: That wasn't in the beginning. It was a little later.


MS. RICHARDS: And that was a different group?

MS. POPOVA: No, no, no.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, no, it was the same group.

MS. RICHARDS: I mean, it's still the Guerrilla Girls.

MS. POPOVA: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. RICHARDS: Was that a conscious action or did you just find yourselves being invited to lecture?

MS. POPOVA: First, we were interviewed for magazines and radio and TV all the time and we put on our masks and so we were performing. And then we started to get invited to give lectures here and there. And I remember, talking about feeling bad about things, some people are better performers than others.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.] Definitely.

MS. POPOVA: And, I mean, just terms of different skills that people have. And that was an issue after a while, wasn't it?

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, huge.

MS. POPOVA: That was around the time when I left.

MS. LEBRUN: And then it was so bad because everybody wanted to make some money and they'd all given time and so you didn't want to say to someone, "You're not very good at lecturing so we can't send you really. If you wouldn't mind doing the research." What we should have done is paid, we should have split the money. Anybody who -

MS. POPOVA: See, we would get calls and letters from the schools, "We paid all this money for the Guerrilla Girls to come out and our students were very disappointed. They weren't very good."

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, so we had to send -

MS. POPOVA: And, of course, you paying knew who was -


MS. POPOVA: Who did a good show and who did not. I never did the, I never went on the road.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. Yeah.

MS. POPOVA: I wouldn't have been good.

[They laugh.]

MS. LEBRUN: Well, and it's, oh, it was - as soon as the money got involved that's where the trouble began.

MS. POPOVA: See, we gave a percentage. Say they would go for two days and the school would pay a certain amount of money. They'd pay for their airfare, they'd pay for their hotel and their expenses and then a fee. And most of the fee went back into the group and a certain percentage was paid to the people who went.

MS. LEBRUN: Right.

MS. POPOVA: And some of the women in the group really needed that income at the time.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

MS. POPOVA: Very, very much.

MS. LEBRUN: But some of the others needed it too, who weren't very good at going. And they were better maybe at research or -

MS. RICHARDS: So that brings you to the question of paying everyone in a communist kind of way.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and we should have done that.

MS. RICHARDS: Everyone the same.

MS. POPOVA: I wasn't there.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and that's maybe where we made a mistake. I mean, hindsight is so much easier. But also some women artists then also were starting to show a lot more than others and that got complicated, too. And I think that that's a big issue, too. And it's hard because a lot of women did a lot of hard work for this and I think it's very difficult when certain people get more notoriety in the art world and others don't, and I think that's very, very difficult.

MS. RICHARDS: Did - I'm going back to the African American artists in the group. Were there issues at the beginning that a gorilla mask could be interpreted as a racist kind of image?

MS. POPOVA: No, but later it did come up.

MS. LEBRUN: Gee, I don't remember that.

MS. POPOVA: It did come up later. We never thought of it in the beginning.

MS. LEBRUN: When did it come up?

MS. POPOVA: I know that it did come up and I think it may have been raised by the woman who left and started Pests.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, God. See, I didn't know that.

MS. RICHARDS: There's a -

MS. POPOVA: We did have them in different colors, the masks. I mean, there -

MS. RICHARDS: For example?

MS. POPOVA: Black, brown. Lighter ones, darker ones.

MS. LEBRUN: I know there's a bright orange one.

MS. RICHARDS: But realistic colors of them?


MS. RICHARDS: No, bright orange as well?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. As I recall there's a bright orange one, yeah, that -

MS. POPOVA: Maybe that was in response to this. I don't know.

MS. RICHARDS: So going back to these issues of pornography and obscenity and censorship, and - how did that play out when you were a member?

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, it was just hideous. It was hideous. I vaguely remember it probably because I want to block it all. But I remember there were all these issues about it and it just seemed so ridiculous to me. I didn't even know why we were even discussing it because it just seemed so antiquated. And I just, I didn't understand it.

MS. RICHARDS: Was it an issue of the generation of the members who were bringing it up?

MS. POPOVA: I wasn't there.

MS. LEBRUN: I think so, because at that point we were starting to get newer, younger members. And I just remember that I felt it was like a really conservative part of the Guerrilla Girls and a really liberal part and they just couldn't -

MS. RICHARDS: And were those divisions by age or -

MS. LEBRUN: No, it wasn't by age at all. No. But I just felt, I can remember the members that really felt strongly one way or the other and I just, I just thought, I really felt it was a waste of time because it just, it seemed like Republicans and Democrats.

MS. RICHARDS: And what about - and the gender issues?

MS. POPOVA: You know what? These issues were being discussed in the women's movement at large at that time. And I think you can find parallels with what we were dealing with discussions in the larger culture, because the art world just reflects the larger culture. And there was a certain moment when there was a lot of controversy in the feminist movement about pornography, pro and con. And I remember all that writing, like the late '80s and early '90s. And it was, theory was being developed about it. So I wasn't in the group at the time, but people must have been coming into the group who had been involved in that discussion somehow, or aware of that discussion.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, I'm sure. I just remember just -


MS. LEBRUN: I don't know.

MS. RICHARDS: When you were being interviewed or traveling to give lectures -

MS. POPOVA: You did it.

MS. LEBRUN: I never did it because -

MS. POPOVA: I never did it either.

MS. LEBRUN: - I lectured so much on my own.

MS. POPOVA: You'd have to ask the others.

MS. RICHARDS: We've talked - we've talked about it.

MS. POPOVA: Me, too. Me, too. That's the same reason.


MS. POPOVA: I figured if - because I was doing the gigs.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and I didn't need the money.

MS. POPOVA: I didn't need the money, but also I didn't, I felt they might recognize me and I -

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, that's what I thought, too. I thought -

MS. POPOVA: Though I don't think they probably would have because your voice is muffled in the mask.


MS. POPOVA: I just didn't want to do it.

MS. RICHARDS: I guess it, was it complicated to decide when to put the mask on and when it take it off if you were -

MS. POPOVA: You should ask the ones on the road.


MS. POPOVA: I think that was a big issue, like whether, you know, if they were two days somewhere how they dealt with that.

MS. LEBRUN: How they did that, yeah.

MS. POPOVA: I think you should ask them.

MS. RICHARDS: When - you said you personally, both of you, had some success and were making some money. As women were becoming more successful in the art world during the years you were members and maybe - [exception?]


MS. RICHARDS: Some. So did that shift the tactics? How did that affect the mission of the group?

MS. POPOVA: You know, we do updates on the statistics.

MS. RICHARDS: Have you done updates?

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, over the years. There's one called Report Card [1986], you know. And the statistics never really changed, you know, so -

MS. RICHARDS: So why it is -

MS. POPOVA: So the point is you can point to certain number of women who achieve visibility but it's still, when you look at the statistics across the board they really haven't changed that much.

MS. LEBRUN: Isn't that sad.

MS. RICHARDS: So why do you think there aren't still Guerrilla Girls making posters physically or online with these new statistics and keeping these issues alive?

MS. POPOVA: They are. They have websites. They're doing it online. And they are doing it, but not on the streets in the way we did it.

MS. LEBRUN: I think they have to reinvent themselves in a new way, I really do.

MS. RICHARDS: The art world is so big, the worldwide web, the voices get drowned.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, and I think as we invented - this is 20 years ago now.

MS. POPOVA: No, 23.

MS. LEBRUN: Twenty three years ago. So they have to come up, the next generation has to come up with a new thing. And I've been thinking the last couple of years, like, with that original idealism what would be, like, the next step that, what would be the next step for, like, a Guerrilla Girl, like, what would be the next thing that would be positive. And I've come up with this really great idea of what could be, what would be beyond the Guerrilla Girls. And now what I'm going to do is write this thing up and go to some people that have money to see if I can fund this thing that will really help women in the next phase beyond this, you know, beyond trying to get women to show. Really go for the next phase of, like, preserving what, like, our generation did and the art work that was done that was never - because I really feel what's going to happen is that so many women artists who never got the opportunity or the chance to show, what's going to happen to all that work? Will their families protect it? Will they store it properly?

So I really want to make some sort of library or archive for women's work. And I would like to get a big piece of property with some sort of storage space for a library like this. So I want to - and just store this work and -

MS. POPOVA: Now, you know at Rutgers they've begun a feminist art archive.

MS. LEBRUN: But is it like a massive place that can really store a tremendous amount of unknown?

MS. POPOVA: I don't know. You should check it out.

MS. LEBRUN: I should? Okay.

MS. RICHARDS: I'm going to change the disks right now.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. Oh, thank you for telling me that. I didn't know that.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, yeah. They've been doing that the last couple of years.

MS. LEBRUN: Have they?

MS. POPOVA: They're very strong on it.

[END MD 01 TR 01.]

MS. POPOVA: - cheaper than anywhere in the New York area. There are big warehouses there.

MS. RICHARDS: We're going back to a new disk.

MS. LEBRUN: Really?

MS. POPOVA: Omaha, Nebraska.

MS. LEBRUN: I know Omaha quite well. Yes, sorry. We're doing a new group over here. [Laughs].

MS. POPOVA: It's endless. I'm so tired of reinventing the wheel. [Laughs.]

MS. RICHARDS: When you were working did you focus at all on - at the beginning or middle, whenever, on artists when they were still in school and the fact that there's so, a high percentage of artists in art school are students becoming -

MS. POPOVA: Women.

MS. RICHARDS: Women, is much greater than men and what happens when they graduate and working with those young artists when they're still in school. Did that -

MS. POPOVA: Well, that's why the gigs in the schools were so important. And the people who were good at the gigs really got the women students revved up.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: And what they would do is before they went into an institution, whether it was a museum or whether it was a school, they'd get the statistics on that place, you know. So it wasn't just bringing in statistics from New York.

MS. RICHARDS: What kind of statistics?

MS. POPOVA: Statistics about women on the faculty, statistics about the student body. You know, if it was a museum in a city, in, I don't know, Cleveland or Detroit or something, they'd get the statistics on the institutions in that city.

MS. LEBRUN: The university museum.

MS. POPOVA: Whatever. Whatever.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, or like the Cleveland Art Institute.

MS. POPOVA: And they still, they're still on the road and they're still doing that. They're doing it in other countries, in foreign countries, because each -

MS. RICHARDS: The Guerrilla Girls are?

MS. POPOVA: Yeah. Yeah.

MS. RICHARDS: When you -

MS. POPOVA: You'll have to talk to people who are currently active.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. We're retired. [Laughs.]

MS. RICHARDS: Elisabeth, were you involved in actions that yourself in actions that focused on issues outside the art world?

MS. LEBRUN: No, I wasn't, not too much.

MS. RICHARDS: Do either of you, you began to talk about this, imagine what's the future of the Guerrilla Girls?

MS. LEBRUN: Well, the Guerrilla Girls, the real Guerrilla Girls -

MS. RICHARDS: Why don't you explain what's happened to the original and what is known as the Guerrilla Girls now and who are the originals in relationship to the book, the compilation you're holding, and the website -

MS. POPOVA: There are four or five books now, by the way. You should see the others, too. More recent ones. Current members.

MS. RICHARDS: Website into the current members and the original -

MS. POPOVA: And there are three different websites, one from each group.

MS. LEBRUN: And why don't you - okay, so you should probably explain, Liubov.

MS. POPOVA: You might know more about it.

MS. LEBRUN: No, no, no. And -

MS. POPOVA: But you're going to have to interview those people, and you will.


MS. POPOVA: Because we, we're not -

MS. RICHARDS: Gertrude is arranging to make sure that all of the -

MS. POPOVA: Key people.

MS. RICHARDS: - key people are involved.

MS. LEBRUN: Good. Okay, because they know.

MS. POPOVA: We don't know much about it.

MS. LEBRUN: We don't know.

MS. POPOVA: Only what we hear. We can only say what we feel. And we've heard things like through the grapevine. We have now an old Guerrilla Girls group and it's -

MS. POPOVA: We're called the Old Girls.

MS. LEBRUN: The Old Girls. [Laughs.] We're called the Old Girls and we have a letter that - or how do you say it?

MS. POPOVA: A ListServ. But I've never been put on it.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, and you probably don't want to, or -

MS. POPOVA: No. I don't know why. But anyway, I heard it existed.

MS. LEBRUN: We have a ListServ, yeah, that's, like, I don't know, 20 of us or so of the Old Girls. And we have a discussion always about what's going on or, you know.

MS. POPOVA: I've never seen it.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, you haven't? Oh, I'll make sure you get on it. So and it just kind of discusses like what's going on or whatever, all different things. You can, it kind of brings us up to date. So it talks about all the issues that are currently involved and the papers being sold to the Getty [Los Angeles] and all the rest of it. And it's really -

MS. RICHARDS: The papers of the early Guerrilla Girls?

MS. LEBRUN: Am I allowed to say that?

MS. POPOVA: I don't know.

MS. LEBRUN: I'm so sorry.

MS. POPOVA: I don't know.

MS. LEBRUN: Well -

MS. POPOVA: The archives.

MS. LEBRUN: Here you go, Miss Big - you're probably going to find out all this anyway but -

MS. RICHARDS: The archives. What is the date that is the official cut off for these archives, these, quote, early -

MS. LEBRUN: I think the archives is - it's 2000. I want to say it's 2000. Maybe it's 2002. Because, and I don't know why I say that, but I vaguely remember reading that somewhere, but I could be wrong on that. But, and that would be about right because that's probably how long the lawsuit was. There was a terrible lawsuit.

MS. POPOVA: That's why there are three groups.

MS. LEBRUN: And this is what has been so heartbreaking. And it all has to do with money, it seems to me.

MS. POPOVA: You didn't know any of this?

MS. LEBRUN: And power and everything else that's nasty. And I don't want to, I don't know. And what's happening is we settled out of court. And there's the Old Girls that had a little say in it and we put one member forward and she is Gee and Gertrude. And I don't really know how to explain it all except that - because it's very complicated and I wasn't involved. But I know that two -

MS. RICHARDS: What's complicated is the lawsuit or the history?

MS. POPOVA: All of it.

MS. LEBRUN: How it all happened. All I know -

MS. RICHARDS: How the splintering happened?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. It was the - from what I understand two of the -

MS. POPOVA: Original.

MS. LEBRUN: Original Guerrilla Girls incorporated the Guerrilla -

MS. RICHARDS: I was going to ask you, did the Guerrilla Girls ever consider becoming a nonprofit organization, therefore to help the anonymity, to increase contributions?

MS. LEBRUN: I don't - see -

MS. POPOVA: We talked about it.

MS. LEBRUN: When I left it was a really big group and they were still going but it had lost a lot of its power because they were beginning to get into, like, a lot of different things.

MS. RICHARDS: Actually, I don't know if you can be a nonprofit with a political mission.

MS. LEBRUN: And about five years after that I don't know what happened, but something happened.

MS. RICHARDS: Five years after you left?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, it seems like -

MS. POPOVA: The early part of this century.

MS. LEBRUN: Early part of this century. Something happened and there seemed to be a lot of disagreement between a lot of the earliest original Guerrilla Girls, maybe two or three of them.

MS. RICHARDS: Among? Among the early group?

MS. LEBRUN: Among, yes, that were still active. God bless them that they were active for all those years, right.

MS. POPOVA: There are three original members who are still active, but in two different groups.

MS. LEBRUN: So, and -

MS. RICHARDS: Do you know their Guerrilla Girl names?


MS. LEBRUN: Frida Kahlo, Gertrude.

MS. POPOVA: Kathe Kollwitz and Gertrude Stein.


MS. RICHARDS: And who are together in one group?

MS. LEBRUN: Frida and Kathe.

MS. RICHARDS: Are in one group, and Gertrude is in another group?

MS. POPOVA: Gertrude is in another.


MS. LEBRUN: And Frida and Kathe incorporated the Guerrilla Girls and it was -

MS. POPOVA: And they've been doing very large scale projects.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and Gertrude went off and splintered and -

MS. POPOVA: With the whole other group.

MS. LEBRUN: With the whole other group, and it's -

MS. RICHARDS: Of new Guerrilla Girls, not old ones?

MS. POPOVA: Yes. Yes.

MS. LEBRUN: And it's been very painful for -

MS. POPOVA: And the third group are these - there's a group that splintered. That's functioning more in the theater world than the art world. Not performance art, theater.

MS. LEBRUN: And it's kind of - and Frida and Kanta -

MS. POPOVA: Kathe.

MS. LEBRUN: - Kathe took the archives, incorporated, and kind of stole it, from my point of view, and from what I understood from the Old Guerrilla Girls e mail. And from what I understood it was really heartbreaking because from what I understood they said that all of us worked for them all these years and that was what broke my heart. Although you say it's not true. So -

MS. POPOVA: I think there are two sides to the story. There always are.

MS. RICHARDS: Well, it will all be in the archives.

MS. POPOVA: It will.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. And all I know is that at this point the archive is going in to the Getty. It's been sold to the Getty and will be very soon going there. And we all - the facts are, these are the only facts that I know. We have to decide at this point whether we want to -

MS. RICHARDS: "We" is who?

MS. LEBRUN: Everybody.

MS. POPOVA: There are about 100 women now.

MS. LEBRUN: Now there's like 100.

MS. POPOVA: Who have once been connected with one or the other of the groups.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. There's, yeah. And some of them very shortly, some of them long term, whatever. And we have to decide whether we want to have our name redacted from the archives.

MS. RICHARDS: What does that mean?

MS. LEBRUN: It's a military term meaning if you want your name blackened out of all the archives. Because our name -

MS. RICHARDS: Your real name?

MS. LEBRUN: Our real name is like all over. My name is like all over the stuff, right, of the archives.

MS. POPOVA: Elisabeth and I and one other person are the only ones who are not ready to go public with our names, which shocks me. About a hundred people or something, they want to go public with their names, the rest of them.

MS. LEBRUN: And the whole idea is -

MS. POPOVA: We talked about it on the way up here.

MS. LEBRUN: And that's why we walked right past her - [laughs] - and it's because it's hard because we contributed so much of our life to this and so much of our energy. And even though it was a while ago, it was quite a while, I still -

MS. POPOVA: You care about it.

MS. LEBRUN: I still care about it and I gave a lot of energy, as did Liubov, and a lot of our time.

MS. RICHARDS: If you were - so your activity and the activity of others in this group played a very important part in their lives and if a biography is being written about them or an autobiography, for philosophical reasons you believe then that that part of their life should not be exposed for historians?

MS. POPOVA: It's very complicated. It's very complicated. I mean, that is the -

MS. RICHARDS: And researchers.

MS. POPOVA: That is the argument. The argument is when people write the history of the period it's going to be important to know who was involved. Our argument is that this was a principle on which the group was based, anonymity, and we all said we'd be anonymous in our lifetimes.

MS. RICHARDS: In your lifetime, and what happens if - when you're -

MS. POPOVA: Elisabeth's told me at a meeting that I wasn't at, perhaps after I left, someone proposed that it come out in our obituaries. And we said on the way up here we could live with that.

MS. LEBRUN: Which always made sense to me.

MS. RICHARDS: But how would the obituary writer find that?

MS. LEBRUN: Well, obviously your family would tell them or someone, one of the GGs would call the -

MS. RICHARDS: When you think about the impact that you've made to the group and the impact that your activities as a member has made to your own personal art work that piece would be hard to write about for an historian -

MS. POPOVA: While we're alive.

MS. RICHARDS: - or a critic. Well, even when you've passed away if they don't know. But have you thought about how when you're talking about your work if your activities as a Guerrilla Girl has affected your work but you can't talk about that? Is that just a sacrifice you make for the principle?

MS. LEBRUN: It's a sacrifice, of course. And of course I'm very proud of what I did and I want people someday to know. But the strength of what we did was really on the whole issue that we remain anonymous. And I still believe in that, I really do. And I think that if we all put our names out there so much of the energy of what the Guerrilla Girls is and still works today, that this whole mystery of who they were will be totally deflated.

MS. POPOVA: Also -

MS. RICHARDS: If you could write a line from the year of the archives' end and you say - can you imagine saying, okay, the activity of these Guerrilla Girls whose work is described in the archive is finished and now we've exposed who they are, but all of the Guerrilla Girls working today are still anonymous? Does that answer -

MS. POPOVA: No, but there are people who were in it right from the beginning and they're still working today.

MS. RICHARDS: And still, oh.

MS. POPOVA: And there will probably be another. I mean, if the Guerrilla Girls had ceased to exist, and I think when I left I proposed that it cease to exist and everybody was appalled, because I always believe personally in coming up with new ideas for their moment and not retreading because I think they lose their impact. And I've thought that about a number of things I've been involved with in my life. That they, you know, they've -

MS. LEBRUN: They have a life.

MS. POPOVA: - outlived their power and immediacy if you keep doing them the same way and better to close down and start something else. Though I didn't anticipate the way this thing has expanded and the people who've continued to be in it and how passionately they feel about it and the wonderful things they've done and all of that, so I think I was wrong. But what was I going to say? Maybe I just wanted to feel better about leaving.

Oh, if the Guerrilla Girls ceased to exist I think the anonymity would not be important. But they exist and they're out there doing things. And some of them, if names are revealed, some of them are out there doing it. So I just don't think it's time to do that.

MS. RICHARDS: The decision you said the 100 members have to make, does that need to be unanimous?


MS. LEBRUN: No. It's individual. They'll go back and redact like our names out of the history, which kind of is heartbreaking. And this would have never come to a head if the two original members hadn't separated and incorporated and done, you know. Really they stole the archive.

MS. RICHARDS: Do you think it was a bad thing?

MS. POPOVA: And their name had to be in the lawsuit or the incorporation or something, so their two names have been in the press, though I don't think people in the art world are aware of those names.

MS. LEBRUN: And they pulled -

MS. POPOVA: Or even of this.

MS. LEBRUN: They took the archives and then there became this big fight over the archives.

MS. RICHARDS: You said there's a lawsuit. Is the lawsuit about the archive? Who owns it?

MS. LEBRUN: It was the, it was about the archive and who owned the name of the Guerrilla Girls, and they -

MS. RICHARDS: Who brought that lawsuit?

MS. POPOVA: The trademark, the name.

MS. LEBRUN: I think the - I don't know. You have to -

MS. POPOVA: I think the New York group. But they also had their allegations, the two women.


MS. POPOVA: That there had been embezzling from the books and things like that.

MS. LEBRUN: Embezzling from the books. Not in my tenure, you could count on that. [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: No, no, no. No, no, no. And they had - so both sides have their issues.


MS. POPOVA: I don't know. Should we be telling all this?

MS. LEBRUN: Well, I think that there's a lot of issues. As I said, I think as soon as the issues of the money and the power gets involved this is where the problems begin.

MS. RICHARDS: Was the lawsuit settled?

MS. POPOVA: Yes, out of court.

MS. LEBRUN: The lawsuit is settled.

MS. RICHARDS: And - was it -

MS. LEBRUN: And part of that settlement is that these archives had to be given to or sold to a place, and so that took a while to decide.

MS. RICHARDS: Was part of the settlement that no one should talk about it?

MS. LEBRUN: I don't think so.

MS. RICHARDS: So then what would be the issue of your not wanting to talk about it?

MS. LEBRUN: I think they are going to talk about it, yeah. I mean, I know some of the others that are going to be interviewed that are going to speak about it.

MS. POPOVA: You know, I'm more out of it than you are because when - we were asked to take sides in terms of the lawsuit and would people testify. We were all sent a letter.

MS. RICHARDS: This is like two thousand and what?

MS. POPOVA: Early 2000s, I don't know.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, three [2003].

MS. POPOVA: We were sent a letter and would we testify on behalf of this or that. And I wrote back, "I can't take sides. I have friends on both sides. I don't know enough about it." And then I just -

MS. LEBRUN: I didn't. I didn't take sides either.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, but then I don't know, I was never sent anything and I wasn't put on the list serve, so I know very little. It's hearsay and that's why I'm a little uncomfortable about it.

MS. RICHARDS: So the sale of the archives was made public?

MS. LEBRUN: You'll have to ask someone else.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah. We don't know.

MS. LEBRUN: All I know is that the archives were sold and now we're at a place where we have to decide whether we want to remain anonymous or not. And I think all of this has been brought to a head all because of greed on probably both sides, and because -

MS. POPOVA: Both sides.

MS. LEBRUN: That's, you know. And that we've lost the spirit in which we started.

MS. RICHARDS: Right now you said, Liubova - Liubov -

MS. LEBRUN: You're doing better than me. [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: Liubov, you know, I've never heard it -

MS. RICHARDS: That there are three websites.

MS. POPOVA: I have to say something. I've never heard it pronounced. I don't know if I'm pronouncing it right. But I was in a museum in Madrid two weeks ago, the Thyssen [Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza], and there were three Liubov Popova paintings and I was very proud.

[They laugh.]

MS. LEBRUN: You said, "There's my work."

MS. POPOVA: I was like, you know, it's ridiculous but I felt like - [laughs.]

MS. LEBRUN: And we always had a Vigée LeBrun at my house when I grew up.

MS. POPOVA: And I didn't even take this name. It was given to me after I left the group.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, that's so nice.

MS. RICHARDS: And you took your name, chose it?

MS. LEBRUN: I took mine, yeah. We had a copy of - we always thought it was an original but it was a copy of a Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun and it was a self portrait. And I always loved it in our house, yeah.

MS. RICHARDS: So going back you said, Liubov, that there are three websites.


MS. RICHARDS: And who do they, who manages those websites? Who runs them?

MS. POPOVA: Each group runs their own website.

MS. RICHARDS: So it's the -

MS. POPOVA: You should go and find out -

MS. LEBRUN: It's the group that Gertrude has. It's -

MS. POPOVA: That's GuerrillaGirlsBroadband.

MS. RICHARDS: That's one of the websites.


MS. RICHARDS: The second website is the one that I looked up when I went online -

MS. POPOVA: Which is Guerrilla Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: - and did research, which is Guerrilla Girls. And the third is the theater group.

MS. POPOVA: And what are they called?

MS. LEBRUN: I don't know -

MS. POPOVA: Something like Guerrilla Girls On the Road or something.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, something like that. But if you -

MS. RICHARDS: On Broadband?


MS. POPOVA: Broadband is Gertrude's group.

MS. POPOVA: You could probably just by Googling "Guerrilla Girls" get all these different things.

MS. RICHARDS: Because I wasn't aware there was more than one, I stopped at the first one.

MS. POPOVA: You should actually find out the differences.

MS. LEBRUN: Of course, and that's what usually happens.

MS. RICHARDS: Let's talk about the publications. Did either of you have anything to do with the publications?

MS. POPOVA: No. I didn't.

MS. LEBRUN: I didn't.

MS. RICHARDS: No? They were published since you left?

MS. POPOVA: Since I did.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, and I was actually there for some of them but I was at that point doing just the mail and I became very compart -

MS. RICHARDS: And have the publications raised a lot of money, earned a lot of money?

MS. LEBRUN: They didn't at the beginning but I imagine they are now.

MS. RICHARDS: And what about the installation at the Venice Biennale last in 2007?

MS. LEBRUN: That was then done by this group, yeah. And see, now they're making a lot of money.

MS. POPOVA: Let me talk to her about it. I saw it. It was very great.

MS. LEBRUN: And I think that's also resented by some of the -

MS. POPOVA: But they do -

MS. RICHARDS: Is it incorporated as a for profit?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. Yes, right. All of the -

MS. RICHARDS: GuerrillaGirls.com.

MS. POPOVA: They tell me they put everything back into the projects and actually I believe that.

MS. LEBRUN: Maybe they -

MS. POPOVA: And they're doing really big ambitious projects. I mean, they have been running with this thing now globally.

MS. LEBRUN: But there's so many women that started it that could use the money. I don't need it, but there are a lot that could use it.

MS. POPOVA: This was taken at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

MS. RICHARDS: This is an image from 1990.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, and my husband took the photograph.

[They laugh.]

MS. LEBRUN: See, that's what I mean. There's a lot of husbands that have helped.

MS. POPOVA: And this member was a bodybuilder and she knew these guys and she brought them with her.

MS. RICHARDS: Could you describe the image for the archive? - Or does it have to -

MS. POPOVA: Yeah, it says "Guerrilla Girls -

MS. LEBRUN: Page 64.

MS. POPOVA: - go back to the jungle," and it was a project for Artforum. And it shows a Guerrilla Girl in what looks like a jungle with these two big bodybuilders feeding her bananas. One's a black one and one's a white one. I mean, one's -

MS. LEBRUN: A black man.

MS. POPOVA: - a Caucasian man and one's an African American man. And then it says, "Since the socially responsible multi cultural art world of the 1990s has met the following demands, Guerrilla Girls are pleased to announce their retirement." And then there are typical ironic things like, "All museums and galleries have publicly apologized for years of discrimination," et cetera, et cetera.

MS. RICHARDS: This is one of the non fact based posters.

MS. POPOVA: Yes. Yes. It ends with -

MS. LEBRUN: Former "consciences of the art world." [Laughs.]

MS. POPOVA: It ends with, "Leo Castelli, Mary Boone, Larry Gagosian, Blum Helman and Pace have endowed a foundation in our honor to eradicate chauvinism and racism in the art world."

[They laugh.]

MS. RICHARDS: The title of this book you're reading from is?

MS. POPOVA: Is Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: And after that what's the title of the other books? I know Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art [New York: Penguin Books, 1998.]

Ms. POPOVA: I don't remember. I would have brought them -

MS. LEBRUN: And Report Card.

MS. POPOVA: I would have brought them with me if I'd, you know. You'll find them.

MS. RICHARDS: That's fine.

MS. POPOVA: Or someone will bring them in -


MS. POPOVA: The people who worked on it.

MS. RICHARDS: So how long do you have to decide about taking your names out of the archive?

MS. LEBRUN: Not much longer. Is it, is it -

MS. POPOVA: I already turned my letter in saying no.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, did you? I think it's, is it March 1st or February 1st? It's soon.

MS. RICHARDS: And you know that there are only three you know out of 100 people?

MS. LEBRUN: There's only three of us. I know, but -

MS. RICHARDS: Do you know who the third person is?

MS. POPOVA: No, but I'm going to find out.

MS. RICHARDS: The Guerrilla Girls name?

MS. POPOVA: No, but I'm going to find out.

MS. LEBRUN: I actually know who it is but I don't know her Girl name.

MS. POPOVA: Oh, who is it?

MS. LEBRUN: I forget her name but I'll tell you. She caused a lot of trouble. Yes.

MS. RICHARDS: And the -

MS. LEBRUN: It was someone - yeah, okay, go ahead.

MS. RICHARDS: So what do you think is the future with the problems that have happened and what do you think is the future of activism by women in the art world?

MS. LEBRUN: Well, you know what, I think what we have to do is, okay, we have to learn a lot of lessons from this. Number one, we have to - because this happened with a lot of the other women organizations like -

MS. RICHARDS: "This" happened. Do you mean splintering and lawsuits and anger?

MS. LEBRUN: Splintering. Well, not -

MS. POPOVA: But that happens in political groups across the board.

MS. LEBRUN: That's what I mean.

MS. POPOVA: Not just women.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. But you're right, probably.

MS. POPOVA: Always. It always happens.

MS. LEBRUN: And so you have to set up -

MS. RICHARDS: Sociological - study -

MS. LEBRUN: Maybe instead of just starting with this spirit you have to start with the spirit but set up rules maybe.

MS. POPOVA: But people break the rules.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, maybe they break the rules but then you can call them on it. But there should have been rules about the - and maybe I should have seen this happening when the finances starting going wacky and instead of just passing it off I should have said, "We have to have rules for this money." And but we should have set up rules in the beginning.

MS. RICHARDS: I gather from other interviews that not having rules was a source of strength and excitement for the group and a kind of -

MS. POPOVA: I wanted to say something about money.

MS. RICHARDS: - openness that would, that fostered creativity and rules seemed to be counter to the spirit of the -

MS. LEBRUN: I think so too.

MS. POPOVA: In the early day - I wanted to tell you how we raised the money for the first posters. We did a mailing to every feminist on any of our mailing lists and asked them would they contribute money to this new exciting -

MS. RICHARDS: Did you ask for a specific amount?

MS. POPOVA: No, and we got mostly small contributions. But someone found out that you could have these posters printed at HBO for free.



MS. LEBRUN: Really?


MS. LEBRUN: I didn't know that.


MS. POPOVA: Home Box Office. I think it was HBO.


MS. POPOVA: I don't know why. But they were doing it for us and that's how we did it.

MS. RICHARDS: They were a major sponsor?

MS. LEBRUN: That is hyster -

MS. POPOVA: Yeah. They were printed on really cheap paper, you know, and they did a big run of them.

MS. LEBRUN: Who needed -

MS. POPOVA: But, you know, it's easier to paste them up if the paper's thinner anyway. But that's who paid for it. And someone else - my memory isn't good but someone else would know what the deal was. Definitely Frida would know.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: And so we had this little amount of money from what people contributed to cover some of our expenses and we had this deal with HBO. We never had any money at all in the early days and we never thought about it.


MS. RICHARDS: Was there any structure in the early days in terms of leadership or who would solve disputes, how would - was a budget created, all those kinds of organizational issues.


MS. RICHARDS: And it didn't matter?

MS. LEBRUN: There were, it was just such a small group.

MS. POPOVA: Not in the early days.

MS. LEBRUN: It was just kind of like we just did by the seat of our pants. We really, it wasn't -

MS. RICHARDS: So looking back now you're thinking that around 10 years after it was founded when income started to be earned that it would have been good if the group had changed a bit.

MS. LEBRUN: You know what, it would have been even better if we just typed up a mission statement, like, our goal is this and we want to always remain anonymous for this reason. You know, just something very simple maybe in the first year or something. And just so, and hand it to everybody and then any time anyone gets out of line reread it. [Laughs.]

MS. RICHARDS: But mission statements can be changed.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, and that's fine. You can change the mission statement. But I just think that everybody forgot and has forgotten why we've done, why we did this. And that's why I think my friend here whose name I can't pronounce - [laughs] - and I are going to write a letter to the archives explaining why we're going to have our names redacted. And even though it means it's going to be permanent and it's kind of painful to both of us that it's permanent, we still feel as if it's important to do this. And it's very sad for me in a way, but I feel it's -

MS. POPOVA: She was a key person here.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, it was a standing on principle, you know. So - and I just hope someone remembers and puts it in my obituary. [Laughs.] So I hope one of the younger members -

MS. POPOVA: Well, I'll remember for you and you remember for me.

MS. LEBRUN: Okay. Okay.

MS. POPOVA: That's all we have to do.

MS. LEBRUN: All right.

MS. POPOVA: Unless we have Alzheimer's.

[They laugh.]

MS. RICHARDS: Put it in your will.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, maybe that's a good idea.

MS. RICHARDS: So when you were in the group, Elisabeth, what were the activities you were involved in that didn't connect to the art world or that were planned? That the group - did the group do anything with the Hollywood, the film industry when you were a member?

MS. LEBRUN: No, not that I - no.

MS. RICHARDS: So when you were a member it was strictly focused on the galleries. What -

MS. LEBRUN: My activities anyway.

MS. RICHARDS: What was the reaction - did you see any change happening in terms of women artists being represented by galleries that you felt had, or even a conversation that action was taking place at galleries?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, all the time.

MS. LEBRUN: It was being talked about. Those posters were being talked about.

MS. POPOVA: I was represented. I shouldn't say by who, but by -

MS. RICHARDS: The person who represented you talked about it?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, yeah. She was really pissed. And her name wasn't on the posters but just the fact - because she had women artists. But just the fact that those posters were all around her gallery in the SoHo neighborhood, she was pissed. And she didn't know that I was a member. I didn't want to -

MS. RICHARDS: Why was she angry if she wasn't -

MS. POPOVA: Everybody, they were all angry. They were furious. - I mean.

MS. LEBRUN: Do you not remember?

MS. RICHARDS: I do, but - I think that now -

MS. LEBRUN: You know, they, it's like you weren't supposed to put the -

MS. RICHARDS: They're women. They know that the women artists who they represent are having a harder time than the male artists they're representing. So wasn't this in a way help -

MS. POPOVA: Women dealers don't necessarily identify with their women artists in that way. They don't.

MS. LEBRUN: In fact -

MS. POPOVA: They care about, not their careers, I finally figured out. Not the careers of their artists, the careers of their galleries. With some exceptions. Actually the one I'm with now is an exception, but not that one.

MS. LEBRUN: And there was a former dealer I used to be with, a woman dealer, and I asked her because she only represented two women. And I asked her, like, what do you, you know, why don't you represent more women. And she said - interestingly enough, she was really embarrassed and she said, "Well, to tell you the truth, look at it this way. It's actually much better for you." And I was a little stunned. And she said, "Because you have to be," and she said, "I'll admit it. You have to be ten times as good as the males to get in my gallery." And she said, "But look in the long term. You'll be - historically think how much better you're going to be as an artist." And I said, "Oh, okay." Well, there we go.

MS. RICHARDS: Were there any women gallerists who had sort of the blinders taken off and -

MS. POPOVA: Well, we did do a poster congratulating those galleries that represented later on more women and artists of color. They weren't your blue chips galleries, mind you. But we did do that.

MS. RICHARDS: Did anyone bring out, did any of the galleries who you spoke to personally, gallerists, women, blame it on quality, that the women artists' -

MS. POPOVA: Of course.

MS. RICHARDS: - work isn't as good as the men?

MS. POPOVA: Of course.

MS. RICHARDS: Or did they just talk about it in terms of salability?

MS. POPOVA: They wouldn't say women artists' work isn't as good, but they would say that they, you know, that they didn't look at gender, they were gender blind, they were responding to work and they were responding to, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, I did have one great response from a couple of collectors that came to my studio. And I remember - and I can even tell you, or I probably shouldn't say who they were. But - he said to me, "I won't buy your work now." I was like, I think I was 35 or something. And I said - and I really needed to sell. And he said, "I'm going to wait." And I thought, "Oh, why?" And he said, "Well, I'll tell you the truth." And I said, "Okay." And he said, "I'm going to wait until you're 40." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because at 40 you won't be having children." And I said, "Wow." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because, you know, if you have children you won't be doing this. You won't be as serious." And I said, "Well, I'll tell you a secret, too. I don't have any ovaries - [laughs] - so I won't be having children." And he said, "No, I'm going to wait until you're 40." And true to his word, he did buy me when I was 40. But I had - isn't that shocking? I was really shocked. He was buying all my male friends that were, you know, that age. So I just made sure my work went up in price so at least he paid more, but that was no consolation.

MS. RICHARDS: Are there any other stories that you can remember the reactions to those posters in those time frames, other -

MS. POPOVA: Well, you know, I would be -

MS. RICHARDS: - artists, from male artists, from [inaudible].

MS. POPOVA: I would be at a party or an opening or something and everybody would be talking about it.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, yes.

MS. POPOVA: Everybody. And they'd be speculating about who we were. And there we were, right in the middle of this discussion.

MS. LEBRUN: I know.

MS. POPOVA: And we knew that they were wrong and you'd be very tempted to set them straight, but you had to control yourself. [Laughs.]

MS. LEBRUN: And it was so -

MS. POPOVA: At that time they all thought it was Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, because they were very prominent at that moment.

MS. LEBRUN: And it's -

MS. POPOVA: And I'm not going to tell you if it was. [Laughs.]

MS. LEBRUN: And it was really interesting because it was, often they - and even now I still hear that Marcia Tucker was a Guerrilla Girl, always. And they always say it's so sad that she's passed away, you know.

MS. RICHARDS: That wasn't, it wasn't in her obituary?

MS. POPOVA: No, and I don't think it will be.

MS. LEBRUN: No. But, of course, they don't know this yet because none of them have died.

MS. RICHARDS: Yes, yes.

MS. POPOVA: No, none of them have died, and hopefully not for a long time.

MS. RICHARDS: A healthy group.

MS. POPOVA: But I wanted to address your earlier question about activism today in the art world. I think there's a lot of activism and a lot of grass roots activism in and outside the art world all over the country that doesn't get a lot of media attention. Everything's about the media today. It's very, very different. It was much easier to have an impact 25 years ago, 20 years ago, than it is today. There's just so much out there. But, I mean, I'm in an activist group called Artists Against the War and we do a lot of stuff and we're mostly women. It shouldn't be a gender issue but the peace movement is mostly women. And I don't know if that's too revealing of who I am to say that. But, I mean, I just, it really surprises me that nobody knows this stuff is going on. And there's been in the last year an enormous amount of feminist activism around all these shows and symposiums about the '70s. And there have been many satellite shows of other kinds of work and newer work and I hope it will continue, you know.

MS. RICHARDS: Do you see young women art school graduates; do you feel they have the same understanding of the issues? Do they relate to being an artist as a woman and the difficulties they might face? I mean, do you think that they're aware of this and aware of the history?

MS. LEBRUN: I think, you know, for a long time I think they thought they could have it -

MS. RICHARDS: Because in the fashion world it looks like feminism has really been lost.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, I think it went, it did swing back, didn't it? I think especially in the '90s it seemed to really go back. But this summer I was up at Skowhegan [School of Art, Skowhegan, ME] lecturing and I was amazed. After I lectured they put three questions under my door, which I thought was really interesting. And one of them was they wanted to know if I had children and I thought - that is the first time I've ever been asked that, quite honestly. And I thought that was so strange. And I asked them why they asked me that and the reason they put the questions under my door is because they were asking me so many questions I wasn't getting any rest. And so these were the three questions they wanted to know. And -

MS. POPOVA: The women?

MS. LEBRUN: It was just all the students, but I'm sure it must have come from the women. And they said they wanted to know because they felt my work was so labored and it took so long to make and they wanted to know if I had children because -

MS. POPOVA: How could you do it.

MS. LEBRUN: - how could I do it all. And I said no, it had been my choice that I couldn't and didn't want to have children. And I said I just knew I couldn't do both in my case. And they said they figured that, that it wouldn't be possible to do both. And I said, "What's your idea?" And they said, well, they were very torn because they weren't - they thought that a lot of the women in the '90s thought they could do both and they thought that that wasn't possible.

MS. RICHARDS: So they are really taking a very -

MS. LEBRUN: Hard look.

MS. RICHARDS: - but.

MS. POPOVA: Yes, I've heard that.


MS. RICHARDS: I would, well, why wouldn't they just reverse roles and think they were going to marry someone or have a partner who would take care of the kids? I mean, why is it -

MS. LEBRUN: Because I think it's -

MS. RICHARDS: So they're still thinking of it in a pretty traditional sense?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, I think, I think so. Yeah, because I don't think it did change. Do you?

MS. POPOVA: No, not very much.

MS. LEBRUN: I mean, I wish I could say it did, but I -

MS. RICHARDS: I don't, well, when you talk to students at art schools -

MS. POPOVA: I want to address that, too.

MS. RICHARDS: - do you, even though you may feel that they have gone, slid back in certain ways, are their expectations, though, different? Do they expect to get a gallery like the male -

MS. LEBRUN: Absolutely.

MS. RICHARDS: So then they expect to make a living and get a teaching position anyway?


MS. RICHARDS: So that's one level that you've observed that expectations have changed?

MS. POPOVA: You know, I've noticed in the last few years there is a pendulum swing back, in speaking in art schools and teaching. This new generation coming up is suddenly really interested in feminism and feminist art, where there had been a kind of revulsion in the '90s, I think.

MS. LEBRUN: Mm hmm, mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. POPOVA: And it's sort of taken me by surprise. They're kind of rediscovering it. And I think that's a good question and I get that, too. I mean, because I did have a child and how did you manage that. They're trying to figure out how they can lead their lives and be artists and they're looking for role models and want to know how other women did it and -

MS. RICHARDS: This is not at all an issue exclusive to the art world.

MS. POPOVA: No, it's not.

MS. RICHARDS: Young women going to art school.

MS. POPOVA: No, it's not. It's not exclusive to the art world. And I think it is - you know, I remember one of the big issues in the early days of this wave of feminism was childcare. And you know, we really thought we were going to have lots of childcare centers in the work place and all kinds of things. That didn't happen, you know. And I don't know how many people are even hopeful that that will happen. So women are still stuck with this problem.

MS. RICHARDS: When you think about the position of women artists in the art world in countries in Europe that have extensive childcare have you seen that it made a difference?

MS. POPOVA: I think it's made a difference for women. I don't know specifically about women artists. Did you see the Michael Moore film?


MS. POPOVA: And he talked with young women in -

MS. RICHARDS: Sicko [2007].

MS. POPOVA: Sicko.

MS. LEBRUN: I did see it.

MS. POPOVA: In other countries where they have childcare and they have maternity leave and they take it for granted.

MS. LEBRUN: But are there more women showing in Europe? I don't think so.

MS. POPOVA: I haven't seen the statistics.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, I don't think so.

MS. POPOVA: But there's other reasons. There's other reasons. That long tradition of male art history which is really a drag for them.

MS. LEBRUN: But in the upper, upper levels here we just don't have the women. It's really sad. There are def -

MS. RICHARDS: We have no levels of what?

MS. LEBRUN: Of the top galleries. You look at them and they just, women just, galleries -

MS. RICHARDS: Top ten auction price.

MS. POPOVA: Oh, yeah.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, like look at it. It's just pathetic. And you look in all the big articles and stuff and it's always men. It's just - it's hard.

MS. POPOVA: I look every time at the auction articles and I'm tired of counting and looking.

MS. RICHARDS: Do you feel that there's been a change in thinking by young curators when they curate exhibitions and they think about women who they're including in their exhibitions?


MS. LEBRUN: Some, yeah, but it's still -

MS. POPOVA: I think they're afraid, you know.

MS. RICHARDS: So there's room for a resurgence of the original Guerrilla Girls?


MS. POPOVA: You know, I actually got an e mail about this, interestingly. I think there's enormous peer pressure on young curators and scholars to be doing what everyone else is doing in the field, both in terms of the current theory and the artists who are fashionable, and they don't want to - you would think they'd want to do something different so as to make a name for themselves but they're afraid. They don't want to do something that's going to be, everyone is going to think is awful and they're going to be put down and therefore their careers won't go anywhere.

I was - just I don't know how to talk about this without revealing more about who I am. But, well, there are 110 women in the "WACK! [Art and the Feminist Revolution"] show and it's traveling and some of us were interviewed for a publication. I was interviewed by e mail - I was out of the country - by a young woman who is a junior curator in a museum in New York who I've never met who was assigned to interview me. Different people interviewing different women in the show. And she said to me, "You know, I have always really liked work that's beautiful and well crafted, but I'm really afraid to say that in the institution that I work for because I wouldn't be taken seriously." She works at the Museum of Modern Art. This was last week I got this e mail.

MS. LEBRUN: Isn't that heartbreaking.

MS. POPOVA: And I wrote back, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: And yet - but if a guy does something that's really well crafted and made really well they just praise him for it. I always wondered if LaDrey's [ph] work was made by a woman. They would have, he never would have gotten where he was.

MS. RICHARDS: Instead of a six foot two -

MS. POPOVA: It's good work.


MS. POPOVA: It's good work.

MS. LEBRUN: It's wonderful work.

MS. POPOVA: It's really amazing it comes out of that big guy, you know.

MS. LEBRUN: I know. No, but if it had been a woman it never would have gotten there. It's just so sad. In a certain way it's too bad that we even have to be on the face of it. It's just too bad it's just not the work.

MS. RICHARDS: Do you think that a new generation of Guerrilla Girls could happen if they could find the means to communicate -


MS. RICHARDS: - and be effective?

MS. LEBRUN: I think it's ready.

MS. RICHARDS: And could be as selfless.

MS. POPOVA: I think it's going to happen.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, it's, like, ready. It's poised.

MS. POPOVA: I mean, I don't know by who, when, in what form. They won't necessarily call themselves the Guerrilla Girls but I think it's going to happen. I was teaching this fall. I don't teach on a permanent basis but I teach around. You probably do, too, do gigs and stuff. And I had these students, 20 students, and five or six of them were making things out of doilies and stuff like that. And I'm going like, what is this, you know. And so I went into this one student's studio, a graduate student, and she was doing these doily things. I never really - just personal bias. I never really liked doilies. [Laughs.] And I said - and I really like her. We became friends. She was a little older. I said, "Why are you doing that?" And she started telling me about her grandmother's couches and doilies and I said, "What does that have to do with you? Why are you telling me about your grandmother?" And what I had to say about that was that they have to not only reinvent the politics, they have to reinvent the aesthetics for themselves. They can't just do something that they think is feminist. Do you know what I mean?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. So they have to, yeah, it has to come from themselves.

MS. POPOVA: It has to come from something of their own reality.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, instead of something that they think, yeah. I hope, I hope they do.

MS. RICHARDS: When you heard about the divisions and the - well, maybe you were personally involved in the schisms and the -

MS. POPOVA: No, neither of us were.

MS. RICHARDS: When you heard about that and you saw what was happening did you feel that it could have been saved, it could have been fixed, that the break up could have been avoided?

MS. LEBRUN: My first instinct was like gosh, we should just have like a, we should just all have everyone come back to someone's loft.

MS. POPOVA: Didn't we do that a couple times? We brought in the old girls and we tried to help get through and it didn't work.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, but I was thinking if we could just bring the, like maybe just those group of like 10 or 15, you know, not the ones that came much later but just, and have everybody just come and have a nice dinner and -

MS. RICHARDS: Do you think that - let's say, assume that while money was involved everyone's heart was in the right place. Do you think that there just were different agendas that had developed and that the mission, it wasn't a unifying mission anymore and that's the - what do you really, aside from the money what do you think caused this split? Was there something besides the power and greed? Were there philosophical issues?

MS. POPOVA: No. I think - yes, I do think that what happens in every group is that some people do all the work and other people are there but in a much more passive way. And this goes on in families too, as I - anyway, and so then either you're guilty or you're resentful. Those are the two roles.

MS. RICHARDS: Was there ever an arbitrator brought in or a therapist.

MS. POPOVA: Right? Either you're guilty because you're not working or you're resentful because you're working more than the others. And I just think it happens in groups. It's just nature.

MS. RICHARDS: Social dynamics.

MS. POPOVA: And then certain people start taking over and certain people who have the will to - the vision, the will and also you might say the desire for power but a combination of things, start to take over and then there's resentment.

MS. RICHARDS: You're saying it's inevitable?

MS. POPOVA: Then they start looking, and then they start looking upon the others as not being necessary because they're just there and they're not really being very productive. So I think that - from what I heard. We're both talking, we may have talked to different people.

MS. RICHARDS: In a way you're saying it was kind of inevitable?

MS. POPOVA: I don't know.

MS. LEBRUN: We really don't know. It just seems, it seems so sad. It just seems sad. It seems so anti from how it started.

MS. POPOVA: Anti feminist.

MS. LEBRUN: Anti feminist, that's right.

[They laugh.]

MS. RICHARDS: Let me - just turn this around.

MS. LEBRUN: That's perfect.

MS. POPOVA: So anti feminist.

MS. LEBRUN: Anti feminist.

MS. POPOVA: It's, like, horrible. I don't want it ever to go out into the public. It's so embarrassing.

MS. LEBRUN: It's embarrassing.

MS. RICHARDS: When you go back to when you were active. Each of you, what was the most fun thing that you did as a member?

MS. LEBRUN: It was fun. The whole thing was fun.

MS. POPOVA: It was the whole thing was really fun.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, it was exhilarating. Because you're making your art, you're so solitary, and then you get together for these meetings and you would just laugh because you were making these posters. And then when you would think of the stuff like what were the, how was it, when you brought back that advantage thing like how was it to be an advantage to a woman artist. Oh, I know, I know. When you're really old you can be famous. And I remember thinking you could pick up your eyelids and go, "I'm really famous now."

[They laugh.]

MS. LEBRUN: I just remember thinking, you know, like all the - and it was just so funny because it was so, like, everything you don't want, like, to be really old and then having - it reminded me of when you read Anais Nin's book. It's, like, now she's 90 and people are finally paying attention to her and she didn't have any energy left, you know. It just seemed pathetic. And it's funny, humor is so great because of that. And it -

MS. POPOVA: And radical. Humor is radical.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and I thought - and it was so much fun to poster at night and then living in SoHo you could almost feel the energy of people reading the posters. And you'd go around to the galleries.

MS. POPOVA: Oh, I got such a kick of seeing them in the street and watching people reading them.

MS. LEBRUN: People read them.

MS. POPOVA: And then people graffittied them.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, that was so much fun. And to be a part of that.

MS. POPOVA: And have this secret.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, yes.

MS. POPOVA: And have everybody talking about it. But the meetings were fun. We laughed a lot.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, yes.

MS. POPOVA: I mean, there were very bright, funny women in the group.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, yes. Yes.

MS. POPOVA: And we were on a roll and we were having an impact.

MS. LEBRUN: And when you'd go to pick up the posters, you know, when someone would come in the printing office, you know, I'd jump into closets to hide, because you never knew who was coming in because it was a place - when we finally got the posters made, it was a place where everybody would go.

MS. POPOVA: There were people in the press trying to find out who we were.


MS. POPOVA: They wanted to -

MS. LEBRUN: To know.

MS. POPOVA: And to be the one to reveal our identities.

MS. LEBRUN: So you didn't want to be running around with these massive - and the posters were big. And so you didn't want to be caught there. That was the place that was the most dangerous. And it was fun. And you were out postering at night and you didn't, you know. It was a lot of fun and to do a lot of the Guerrilla actions that we did.

MS. POPOVA: Now I remember. We wore those Lone Ranger masks after a while outside.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, did you? I didn't remember. I just remember wearing those hot -

MS. RICHARDS: After the -

MS. POPOVA: No, postering. Because you couldn't wear those masks postering.

MS. LEBRUN: We wore them. I wore them.

MS. POPOVA: Really?

MS. LEBRUN: And I was like so hot.

MS. RICHARDS: You wore Lone Ranger - black?

MS. POPOVA: I think we did.

MS. LEBRUN: We often just -

MS. POPOVA: You know, just covering the eyes and then maybe a hat or something. [Laughs.]

MS. RICHARDS: Yeah. Did -

MS. LEBRUN: Then we hired some high school boys to do it.

MS. POPOVA: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. RICHARDS: Liubov, Liubov -

MS. LEBRUN: [Laughs.] What a name.

MS. POPOVA: It's Russian.

MS. RICHARDS: Were you involved in the creation of any specific posters? Did you just participate in all of - all of them?

MS. POPOVA: All of the early ones. I was involved in coming up with the ideas. We did it collectively.

MS. RICHARDS: Did you do research?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, but one person did the graphics.


MS. POPOVA: One person did the graphics from day one and established the graphic style, and she had been doing that in advertising. And all the books were designed by her and all the posters were designed by her. I think that was very much part of our success, that we established a visual style in the street and everywhere else.

MS. RICHARDS: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. LEBRUN: It was just a very simple style.

MS. POPOVA: And she was one of the original members, yeah. Very straightforward. So it's not like we were all designing them. We were coming up with the ideas.

MS. LEBRUN: And just putting information in.

MS. POPOVA: But sometimes, sometimes we - we'd all come in with little pieces of paper with ideas scribbled on them.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes, I remember that. Yes.

MS. POPOVA: And then we'd argue and discuss and work on them.

MS. LEBRUN: Napkins, yes. That was fun.

MS. POPOVA: And sometimes if there was an image we'd come in with a sketch, but she would make it into a poster.

MS. RICHARDS: And bring it back and get approval?

MS. POPOVA: Yes, absolutely.

MS. LEBRUN: But then it became - when the group got bigger, and this was a little bit after you, maybe you were there. But then as the group got bigger it got a little more unwielding and that person began to get a little bit pissier and began to just say, "I'm just going to do this," so she just began to do it. And because -

MS. RICHARDS: Because there were too many opinions?

MS. LEBRUN: Too many opinions. It was too hard to get a consensus. And so she began to just do it on her own and other people then would get a little angry, but everybody was so time pressed then they were like, "Well, fine, and I'll just do this." And so it began to splinter a little bit as it got bigger and more unwielding and maybe that's what started the downfall. But things started to break off like about '94, '95, it seemed, if I'm correct on the dates. But towards the end it did.

MS. POPOVA: We did have a poster committee at one point.


MS. POPOVA: That brought ideas to the larger group. Anybody could bring in ideas. But this committee would take the ideas and try and work on them and then bring it back to the group.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, because it just was getting -

MS. POPOVA: I just remembered that, toward the end of the period when I was there.

MS. LEBRUN: Towards the end, yeah. And then they started to just, it was kind of like they just would take - different groups would, like, people that were selling it to museums, they would just start to -

MS. RICHARDS: Selling what?

MS. LEBRUN: Selling the posters to museums.

MS. POPOVA: Oh so we - one woman had this idea, and you'll probably interview her. She made a very nice portfolio with, I don't know, the first 25 posters or however many. Fifty.

MS. LEBRUN: Actually, I did that. I sold it to OIA or we gave it as a benefit.


MS. LEBRUN: OIA was Organization of Independent Artists. And I put our 10 first posters in a portfolio and gave it to OIA as part of their benefit raffle, because I was on their board then. And we did the first raffle actually in the city where we sold tickets for $100, maybe $150, and everybody who bought a ticket got an art piece. And so that was the first raffle that was ever held and this was part of that raffle. And it was the only thing that didn't sell and I couldn't believe it. And so I came back to the GG meeting and I said, "I'm so disappointed. I'm sorry, you guys, this didn't sell." And not that we would have gotten any money from it. But then one of the other members said, "You know, I'll bet you I could take that to museums and sell it." And so that's how she then took that -

MS. POPOVA: She made a very beautiful portfolio - I don't know how many posters were in it - and she sold it to a number of museums.

MS. LEBRUN: Well, she took that portfolio and then did it.

MS. POPOVA: Yeah. And then she had more made.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and then she made -

MS. RICHARDS: Were the original -

MS. POPOVA: She kept them under her bed, I remember.

MS. LEBRUN: Yes. Yes.

MS. RICHARDS: Were the original posters copyrighted and dated so that if there is value now to these originals that they're identifiable, or could someone just make copies and you wouldn't know the difference?

MS. POPOVA: I don't know. - I really don't know.

MS. LEBRUN: They could probably just make copies and we wouldn't know the difference. I don't think they were copyrighted. See, we didn't do, you know, it was just -

MS. POPOVA: We didn't have a copyright.


MS. POPOVA: It was just said "Guerrilla Girls, Conscience of the Art World". But they are in museum collections and there have been museum shows of them. And I think that as we went on she put more and more into the portfolio and probably raised the price.


MS. POPOVA: I don't know how many she sold, but she was very good at sales and promotion and did an outreach.

MS. LEBRUN: That was her thing.

MS. POPOVA: Did a big outreach thing on it and that was money that we used to make more posters.

MS. RICHARDS: And it was an unlimited edition; you could print more?


MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, but I don't - yeah.

MS. POPOVA: I don't know if we ever did. Someone else might know.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, she would know.

MS. POPOVA: She sure would.

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah. She was very good at it. And she's also very good at speaking.

MS. POPOVA: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]


MS. RICHARDS: Are there any more comments you'd like to make?

MS. POPOVA: There was a movie made called Guerrillas in Our Midst [1992].

[They laugh.]

MS. POPOVA: And it's very good. It shows us out postering and it interviews people in the art world who -


MS. POPOVA: Guerrillas in Our Midst.

MS. LEBRUN: And also recently -

MS. POPOVA: And it was, I forget who made it but you can go online and find.


MS. POPOVA: It was shown at Film Forum and film festivals. It's a documentary.

MS. LEBRUN: And there was also another film that was just recently shot, like last Christmas. And we all went, all the old Girls, and we -

MS. POPOVA: Not me.

MS. LEBRUN: Why are you not on this list? I am going to get you on this list.

MS. POPOVA: There's a reason. Someone doesn't want me to be.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh, ridiculous. I'll do this today. So that's stupid.

MS. POPOVA: Gertrude.

MS. LEBRUN: Oh. So anyway, so - and they did a whole interview of different Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: There's a newer movie. What's that called?

MS. POPOVA: Oh, is that the movie that Lynn Hershman is doing?


MS. POPOVA: So Lynn Hershman is making a movie about the feminist art movement on both coasts going back to the early '70s. She interviewed Guerrilla Girls?

MS. LEBRUN: Yeah, and there was also one of the other Guerrilla Girls who I don't know her name but Gertrude would, that shot a lot of still photographs which I think are really beautiful.

MS. POPOVA: Recently.

MS. LEBRUN: Recently, yeah, and -

MS. RICHARDS: Still photographs of?

MS. LEBRUN: The Guerrilla Girls.

MS. RICHARDS: With their masks on?

MS. LEBRUN: With their masks on. And then there was a film that was unmasked that Gertrude will know about that interviewed a lot of them.

MS. POPOVA: Unmasked?

MS. LEBRUN: Unmasked.


MS. LEBRUN: I don't -

MS. POPOVA: I don't, I never heard of this one.

MS. LEBRUN: I think we were drinking. [Laughs.] I don't know. We were waiting for Lynn Hershman's interview and they were just talking to us, so I think we were stupidly talking. I mean, it wasn't stupid but we, I was totally comfortable because one of the other Girls were filming it.

MS. POPOVA: I have to make this train.

MS. LEBRUN: And yeah, so maybe that will help you.

MS. RICHARDS: Okay. Yeah, thank you very much.

MS. LEBRUN: Thank you for such good questions.


This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Guerrilla Girls Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun and Liubov Popova, 2008 Jan. 19, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.