New York immersion, quilts, prints and paintings by Faith Ringgold at the New Museum and ACA Galleries
Calling it Faith Ringgold’s “moment of glory”, Janyce Denise Glasper recounts 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 “has invested so much in her courageous and groundbreaking practice. The public must perform the same duty to her.” Both shows are up until early or mid-June 2022. Links and more information at the bottom of this article.
Author’s preface: At New Museum and ACA Galleries— the gallery that has represented her for years — ninety-one-year-old multidisciplinary artist Faith Ringgold takes hold of New York with awe-inspiring, thought-provoking compositions that will linger in the mind long after the visit.
And it’s not stopping anytime soon.
On a dreary, rainy March afternoon in New York, “American People” at the New Museum brightened the atmosphere with three floors filled with a rich and haunting assortment of Faith Ringgold’s many practices – a career retrospective spanning over 60 Years of Ringgold Painting Printmaking, Sculpture, Quilting, Writing, and documented activism. With content as American as apple pie and star-spangled flags – and especially the violent beginnings of the civil rights era – the colorful narrative works cry out against injustices: racism, inequality, body politics and the white cannon art world. No subject is off limits in a career that spans nearly seven decades.
In magazine interviewartist Kara Walker asked Ringgold, “What activity or entity makes you feel optimistic, alive and purposeful?”
“Painting,” Ringgold replied. She keeps :
“I generally like to do a series because it tells a kind of story. And if it hits me right, it could take a long time to say it, and I could produce a lot of that idea. But I don’t do anything that doesn’t inspire me. I’ve started a lot of different shows and I have to watch and see where they go. One of them concerns aging, which is no longer what it used to be. Another concerns Trump, who will not leave. But that’s a difficult question to answer. Since my husband died [Burdette Ringgold, who died in February 2020]it was problematic.
This love for painting is more than apparent.
The second floor of the New Museum’s retrospective showcases Ringgold’s earlier works, beginning with the sensational “American People” series. The oil paintings are flat, impactful, repeating geometries that investigate the human form, text, and negative spaces. In “Woman Looking in the Mirror”, a black woman seated by a window that functions as a smart grid device behind her holds a rounded mirror – the same muted pink as her spaghetti strap tank top. While the thick, lush green leaves and bright blue sky outside represent the beauty of nature, the black woman symbolizes the beauty of her often overlooked existence.
Ringgold is an artist who can render a mighty mural of dying, bloodied bodies in the big, 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 life in two Americas is to reveal its inherent sinister nature and those significant pockets of good within its diabolical setting. In “Die,” an otherwise maddening illustration of crippling fear and death, men, women, and children are gripped in terror, running in various directions, blood spurting from faces to clothing to the shooter’s hand. . “The Bitter Nest, Part II: The Harlem Renaissance Party” is about a girl named Celia (whose story is handwritten in paragraphs on the left and right sides of the quilt) at a fancy dinner surrounded by renowned guests such as Zora Neale Hurston, WEB 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; features delightful illustrations from her award-winning children’s book “Tar Beach” and includes rough and heavier material. “We Came to America: The American Collection #1”, featuring a black Statue of Liberty holding a baby in one arm and raising her flaming, smoking torch in the other, as black bodies flee a burning ship.
On the fourth floor, my copy of Dan Cameron’s book “Dance at the Louvre” became a ready-made reality. Gallery lights focus on each elaborate quilt in a series that draws innovative inspiration from European painting. Ringgold continues to shine a light on unsung black geniuses while placing his alter ego Willia Marie Simone among them in Paris. In these works, Josephine Baker throws a fabulous birthday party, Manet’s Olympia has brown skin, Gertrude Stein sits with James Baldwin, and Willia loves Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Picasso’s Cubism.
Ringgold Prints and Quilts at ACA Galleries
Miles away at the ACA Galleries, “Faith Ringgold: Prints and Multiples” features screen prints and four other distinctive quilts. Across disciplines, Ringgold’s ability to weave together the art of personal storytelling and real historical events is a remarkable inspiration. In “Dear Selma”, Ringgold thanks the sculptor Selma Burk for his unrecognized role in creating the profile portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the penny. Another series notes the harmful consequences of segregation – children unable to attend amusement parks and walking through dangerous territory with their parents. Ringgold represents the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which cost the life of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertsonand Denise McNair; depicting the four victims as smiling angels flying above the ruined church, with the Ku Klux Klanman gathered around.
As unforgettable as the work on the walls of both spaces, I will never forget the genuine unexpected pleasure of the ACA galleries – the startling appearance of Faith Ringgold herself – taking pictures in an orange and green patterned shirt and trousers elaborate, smiling broadly for the cameras.
The new ACA Museum and Galleries command a full day of time and patience to truly appreciate Faith Ringgold’s incredible legacy as an artist, storyteller and art lover/historian. You have to read its words, see every bit of pattern, watch every expressive face. She has invested so much in her courageous and groundbreaking practice. The public must fulfill this same duty towards it. It’s his moment to shine with a thousand lights. You have to applaud her and offer her her flowers now.
“Faith Ringgold: American Peopleis in place at The New Museum, 235 Bowery St, New York, New York 10002 through June 5, 2022. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“Faith Ringgold: Prints and Multiplesis in place at ACA Galleries, 529 W. 20th St. #5E, New York, New York 10011 through June 17, 2022. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.