Faith Ringgold: American People 02/17/22-06/05/22 New Museum 235 Bowery New York, NY 10002 212.219.1222
“Faith Ringgold: American People” provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of Ringgold’s impactful vision. Her role as an artist, author, educator, and organizer has made her a key figure whose work links the multi-disciplinary achievements of the Harlem Renaissance to the political art of young Black artists working today.
During the 1960s, Ringgold created some of the most indelible art of the Civil Rights era by melding her own unique style of figurative painting with a bold, transformative approach to the language of protest. In subsequent decades, she challenged accepted hierarchies of art and craft through her experimental quilt paintings and undertook a deeply studied reimagining of art history to produce narratives that bear witness to the historical sacrifices and achievements of Black Americans.
This exhibition will feature works from across Ringgold’s best-known series, tracking the development of her figurative style as it evolved and expanded to meet the urgency of the political and social changes taking place in America during her lifetime. The first section of the exhibition will provide an extensive look at Ringgold’s early paintings, including the American People and Black Light series.
Using what the artist described as a “super-realist” visual language, Ringgold captured the racial and gender divisions in 1960s American society with searing insight. Her large-scale “murals”—including the celebrated American People Series #20: Die (1967), recently juxtaposed with Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at The Museum of Modern Art—will be shown alongside her iconic political posters, which advocated for collective causes like support for the Black Panther Party and freeing activist Angela Davis.
The exhibition will also examine Ringgold’s embrace of non-Western and craft traditions, including her performance objects and “soft sculptures.” A large selection of her early unstretched canvases adorned with sewn fabric borders, inspired by Tibetan thangkas, will also be displayed. These works demonstrate Ringgold’s attempts to transcend the predominately white art historical tradition to find forms more suitable for the radical exploration of gender and racial identity that her work would go on to enact. Although lesser known within Ringgold’s oeuvre, these canvases led directly to the creation of her best-known, story quilt paintings of the 1980s and 1990s.
Ringgold’s story quilts are some of the most influential artworks of the past fifty years. Drawing on both personal autobiography and collective histories, the story quilts point to larger social conditions and cultural transformations—from the Harlem Renaissance to the realities of Ringgold’s life as a working mother, artist, and activist.
This retrospective includes a wide range of Ringgold’s quilts, including formative pieces created with her mother, important early series like The Bitter Nest and Change, and the largest selection to date of her historic series, TheFrench Collection and The American Collection. Together, these story quilts position the artist’s own personal and professional biography in dialogue with key moments in art history and the larger narrative of the African-American experience across the twentieth century, reimagining both the birth of America and the myths of modernity as polyphonic narratives of emancipation and resistance.
The exhibition catalogue, co-published with Phaidon, will be the most significant collection of scholarship on Ringgold’s work to date, with new contributions by curators, writers, and artists across generations, including Diedrick Brackens, LeRonn Brooks, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Jordan Casteel, Bridget Cooks, Mark Godfrey, Lucy Lippard, Tschabalala Self, Michele Wallace, and Zoé Whitley. This fully illustrated publication will focus on all aspects of Ringgold’s career—the range of contributors speaks to the wide variety of audiences her work has reached over the past fifty years. Long overdue, this retrospective will provide a timely opportunity to appreciate a critical voice in the history of American art.
“Faith Ringgold: American People” is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director, and Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator.