New York immersion, Faith Ringgold’s quilts, prints and paintings at The New Museum and ACA Galleries
Calling it Faith Ringgold's "moment to shine," Janyce Denise Glasper writes about the experience of spending an entire day immersing herself in Faith Ringgold's detailed expressive works at The New Museum and ACA Galleries. She comments that Ringgold "invested so much in her brave, revolutionary practice. The audience must perform that same duty to her." Both shows are up until early or mid-June, 2022. Links and more information at the bottom of this post.

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Illustration on a quilt of the Statue of Liberty as a Black woman holding a child in one arm and the torch in the other, in front of a sea filled with Black people fleeing from a burning ship behind then, visible near the horizon.
Faith Ringgold, “We Came to America: The American Collection #1,” 1997. Acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric, 74 ½ × 79 ½ in (189.2 × 201.9 cm). Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022

Author’s Preface: At the New Museum and ACA Galleries— the gallery that has represented her for years— the ninety-one-year-old multidisciplinary artist Faith Ringgold takes over New York City with impressive, thought-provoking compositions that will stay on the mind long after the visit.

And she is not stopping anytime soon.


On a dreary-rainy March afternoon in New York, “American People” at The New Museum brightened up the atmosphere with three floors packed in a rich, spellbinding smorgasbord of Faith Ringgold’s many practices— a career retrospective covering more than 60 years of Ringgold’s painting, printmaking, sculpture, quilting, writing, and documented activism. With content as American as apple pie and star spangled flags– and especially the violent beginnings to the civil rights era– the colorful narrative works cry out against injustices: racism, inequality, body politics, and the white canon art world. No subject is off limits in a career that spans almost seven decades.

In Interview Magazine, artist Kara Walker asked Ringgold: “What activity or entity keeps you feeling optimistic, lively, and purposeful?”

“Painting,” Ringgold replied. She continues:

“I usually like to do a series because it’s telling some kind of story. And if it hits me good, it might take a long time to tell it, and I might produce a lot out of that one idea. But I don’t do anything that doesn’t inspire me. I have a lot of different series that I’ve begun and I have to watch and see where they go. One of them is about aging, which is not what it used to be. Another is about Trump, who won’t go away. But it’s a hard question to answer. Since my husband died [Burdette Ringgold, who died in February 2020], it’s been problematic.”

That love for painting is beyond apparent.

The second floor of the New Museum retrospective introduces Ringgold’s earlier works beginning with the sensational “American People” series. The oil paintings are flat, impactful, repeated geometries investigating human form, text, and negative spaces. In “Woman Looking in the Mirror,” a Black woman sitting by a window that operates as a clever grid device behind her holds up a rounded mirror— the same muted pink as her spaghetti strap tank top. While the thick, abundant green leaves and bright blue sky outside represent the beauty of nature, the Black woman symbolizes the beauty of her often ignored existence.

Painting of Black people and white people on a dark and light gray checkered background, some dead and others bloody and fleeing or hiding behind other people, two of which are holding weapons: a Black man holding a knife; a white man holding a gun.
Faith Ringgold, “American People Series #20: Die,” 1967. Oil on canvas, two panels, 72 x 144 in. (182.9 x 365.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase; and gift of The Modern Women’s Fund, Ronnie F. Heyman, Glenn and Eva Dubin, Lonti Ebers, Michael S. Ovitz, Daniel and Brett Sundheim, and Gary and Karen Winnick. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

Ringgold is an artist that can render a powerful mural of dying, bloodied bodies in the large, unsettling “Die” and center an exquisite imaginary gathering on the repurposed quilt in “The Bitter Nest, Part II: the Harlem Renaissance Party.” The reality of living in two Americas is to reveal its inherent sinister nature and those significant pockets of good within its diabolical framework. In “Die,” an otherwise maddening illustration of paralyzing fear and death, men, women, and children are seized with terror, running about in various directions, the blood spurting from faces to clothes to the gunman’s own hand. “The Bitter Nest, Part II: The Harlem Renaissance Party” is about a girl named Celia (whose tale is handwritten in paragraphs on the left and right sides of the quilt) at a swanky dinner surrounded by renowned guests such as Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. DuBois, and Ringgold in an outfit as wildly ostentatious as peacock wings, holding an African mask.

The third floor celebrates pioneers— Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Sojourner Truth; contains delightful illustrations from her award-winning “Tar Beach” children’s book and includes raw, heavier material. “We Came to America: The American Collection #1,” with a Black Statue of Liberty holding a baby in one arm and raising her flaming, smoking torch in the other, as Black bodies flee from a burning ship.

Illustration on a quit of a Black mother and kids walking and dancing and skipping happily together in the hallway of the Louvre Museum, directly in front of the Mona Lisa.
Faith Ringgold, “Dancing at the Louvre: The French Collection Part I,” #1, 1991. Quilted fabric and acrylic paint, 73 ½ x 80 ½ in. (186.7 x 204.5 cm). The Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, Gift of David Horvitz ’74 and Francie Bishop Good, 2017.5.6. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022

On the fourth floor, my copy of Dan Cameron’s book “Dancing at the Louvre” became an off-the-shelf reality. Gallery lights focus on each elaborate quilt of a series that innovatively takes on European painting. Ringgold continues highlighting overlooked Black geniuses while placing her alter-ego Willia Marie Simone among them in Paris. In these works, Josephine Baker has a fabulous birthday party, Manet’s Olympia has brown skin, Gertrude Stein sits with James Baldwin, and Willia enjoys Van Gogh’s sunflowers and Picasso’s cubism.

Prints and quilts by Ringgold at ACA Galleries

Miles away over at the ACA Galleries, “Faith Ringgold: Prints and Multiples” showcases serigraphs and four other distinctive quilts. Across disciplines, Ringgold’s ability to weave together the art of personal storytelling and true historical events is a remarkable inspiration. In “Dear Selma,” Ringgold thanks sculptor Selma Burke for her unacknowledged role in the creation of the profile portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the dime. Another series remarks on the harmful consequences of segregation— children unable to attend amusement parks and marching dangerous territories with their parents. Ringgold depicts the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair; portraying the four victims as smiling angels flying above the ruined church, with Ku Klux Klanman gathered around.

Illustration on a quit of a Black mother and kids walking and dancing and skipping happily together in the hallway of the Louvre Museum, directly in front of the Mona Lisa.
Faith Ringgold, “Dancing at the Louvre: The French Collection Part I,” #1, 1991. Quilted fabric and acrylic paint, 73 ½ x 80 ½ in. (186.7 x 204.5 cm). The Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, Gift of David Horvitz ’74 and Francie Bishop Good, 2017.5.6. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022

As unforgettable as the work on the walls of both spaces, I will never forget the real, unexpected treat at the ACA Galleries— the surprising appearance of Faith Ringgold herself— taking pictures in an elaborate orange and green patterned shirt and pants, grinning wide for the cameras.

The New Museum and the ACA Galleries command a full day’s worth of time and patience to truly appreciate Faith Ringgold’s incredible legacy as an artist, storyteller, and art lover/historian. You have to read her words, see every scrap of pattern, look at every expressive face. She invested so much in her brave, revolutionary practice. The audience must perform that same duty to her. It is her moment to shine bright and fine. We must applaud and give her her flowers now.

Faith Ringgold: American People” is up at the New Museum, 235 Bowery St, New York, New York 10002 until June 5, 2022. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11AM-6PM and Thursday from 11AM-9PM.

Faith Ringgold: Prints and Multiples” is up at ACA Galleries, 529 W. 20th St. #5E, New York, New York 10011 until June 17, 2022. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11AM-6PM.

Tags

16th Street Baptist Church bombing, ACA Galleries, Addie Mae Collins, American People, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, dan cameron, Dancing at the Louvre, Denise McNair, faith ringgold, Franklin D. Roosevelt, gertrude stein, harriet tubman, Interview Magazine, James Baldwin, josephine baker, kara walker, Louvre Museum, malcolm x, Martin Luther King Jr., picasso, Selma Burke, Sojourner Truth, The Museum Of Modern Art, the new museum, Van Gogh, W.E.B DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston

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