Faith Ringgold perfectly captured the pitch of America's madness

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, May 19, 2024


Faith Ringgold perfectly captured the pitch of America's madness
The artist Faith Ringgold at home in Englewood, N.J., Feb. 21, 2020. Ringgold’s landmark career was long ignored by the art establishment, but she kept going, mixing the personal and political, and a late surge of attention rightly put her smack in the middle of MoMA. (Meron Tekie Menghistab/The New York Times)

by Holland Cotter



NEW YORK, NY.- Faith Ringgold, who died Saturday at 93, was an artist of protean inventiveness. Painter, sculptor, weaver, performer, writer and social justice activist, she made work in which the personal and political were tightly bonded. And much of that work gained popularity among audiences that didn’t necessarily frequent galleries and museums. This was particularly true of her series of semi-autobiographical painted narrative quilts depicting scenes of African American urban childhood, subject matter that translated readily into illustrated children’s books, of which, over the years, Ringgold published many.

Altogether, hers added up to a landmark-status career. But the art establishment, as defined by major museums, big-bucks auction houses and a few talent-hogging galleries, never knew quite what to do with it, or with her. So they didn’t do anything. No mega-surveys, no million-dollar corporate commissions, no Venice Biennale-type canonizations.

Recently, though, very late in the day, came a serious uptick in attention. In 2016, the Museum of Modern Art finally brought Ringgold into its collection with the acquisition of several pieces from early in her career. One of them was a monumental 1967 painting titled “American People Series #20: Die.” It shows a crowd of panicked men, women and children, white and Black, screaming and bleeding, and stampeding in all directions as if under lethal attack from some unseen force.

It’s useful to remember where Ringgold stood in her life at the time she painted the picture. Harlem-born, she’d had a classical art education, was teaching art in public school, and was painting what she herself described as impressionist-style landscapes. She was also reading James Baldwin, listening to the news, and seeing American racial politics shift from civil rights-era passive resistance to a newly assertive Black power. The country was on red alert, just as it is today, and her art responded to the emergency by turning topical.

In the paintings she called the “American People Series,” of which “Die” was one, white people and Black people appear together, but with skewed power balances made clear. In an early picture, “The Civil Rights Triangle” from 1963, five men in business suits, four Black, one white, form a pyramid, with the white man on top, indicating that to the extent the civil rights movement was white-approved, it was also white-controlled.

In “Die,” the culminating picture in the series, a full-on war has erupted, though one that goes beyond being a clear-cut race war. All the figures in the picture look equally stunned and traumatized by the blood bath they find themselves in.

And for Ringgold at this time, art itself went beyond being the seismic recorder of a culture. It also became a vehicle for path-clearing and ethical advocacy. She organized protests against the exclusion of Black artists from leading museums, and designed posters in support of the Attica inmates and activist Angela Davis. In a painting series called “Black Light,” she eliminated white pigment from her palette and mixed black into all her colors. By the 1970s she had become convinced that Black liberation and women’s liberation were inseparable causes. In 1971 she painted a mural for what was then the Women’s House of Detention on Rikers Island.

She knew that the country she lived in was actively, murderously crazy. For an artist to find a voice for that craziness, to get the pitch of the madness right, was unusual and daring. For that artist to be Black and female was more than unusual, and met with pushback from many sources, most of them within the art world itself.

The kind of painting she favored — figurative, storytelling, polemical — was out of fashion with the establishment, which well into the ’60s touted abstraction as the only “serious” aesthetic mode. (Even within Black art circles a debate over whether modern art, Black or otherwise, should admit political content was very much alive.) And her work continued to run against the grain throughout the minimalist and conceptualist years. It’s only recently, with figurative painting hugely in vogue, that her work has gained something like market currency.

And over the decades she continued to develop in new directions. Her formal means grew ever more craft-intensive, incorporating weaving, sewing and carving. Her political content drew less from the news and more from art history and her own life. Her determination to share this content, often determinedly Black-positive in tone, with young audiences through 20 published children’s books is all but unique in contemporary art annals.

The full range of these developments was on display in an overdue retrospective, “Faith Ringgold: American People,” organized by the New Museum in 2022. But back to Ringgold at MoMA in 2019.

For the opening of its newly expanded premises, the museum was rehanging, top to bottom, its permanent collection galleries, and “Die,” a relatively recent arrival, was chosen for inclusion. More than that, it was awarded a starring role. It shared an otherwise sparsely installed gallery with a major MoMA attraction, Picasso’s 1907 “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” a confrontational image of five nude Catalan prostitutes with sliced-up bodies and faces like African masks.

The two paintings were placed cater-corner in the gallery, so you could take them in together at a glance. Both are violent. (The colonialist implications of “Demoiselles” have been much noted, and art historians have read the picture as, among other things, an expression of male sex panic.) Both register as scorchingly political, while leaving their precise politics unclear. Paired at MoMA, they seemed to be visually and conceptually duking it out.

For me, Ringgold — an avowed Picasso fan — won the match. But what really mattered was simply that she was there, smack in the center of Western modernism’s ground zero institution, and with her most radical image. I admire Ringgold’s later art, much of it materially innovative and expressively buoyant. But it’s the early work, from the pivotal period that produced “Die,” that I keep coming back to.

What she managed to do, in those early paintings, was put aside all the conventional art tools she’d been schooled with, beauty among them (she would later reclaim it), in order to face down the world as it really was, including an art world that had no use for her — a Black woman — and was, in fact, fortressed to keep her and everyone like her out.

Certain artists manage to leap over walls. Picasso was one. And some tunnel under those walls, hit resistance, tunnel some more and, once inside, open a door to let others in. That’s what Faith Ringgold, artist-activist to the end, did.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










Today's News

April 17, 2024

Israeli artist shuts Venice Biennale exhibit, calls for Gaza cease-fire

'St. Luke Painting the Virgin' by Maarten van Heemskerck originally two paintings

Artist exposes the use of power and brutality in a crucial reckoning with European art history and the human condition

Modern Art opens an exhibition of new work by Trevor Shimizu

Tate launches new programme to increase the representation of Indigenous artists in its collection

Rare and Important Islamic gold coin dating back to the 1st Century of the Hijra for auction in London

Faith Ringgold perfectly captured the pitch of America's madness

Aboriginal language names for Art Gallery of New South Wales buildings

'Fashioning Aloha' focuses on Hawaiian clothing styles exported around the globe

The Rolling Stones at Altamont and a young Elvis steal the show at Heritage

James Dean, founding director of NASA Art Program, dies at 92

San Antonio Museum of Art hires Kristopher Driggers as Associate Curator of Latin American Art

Pirelli HangarBicocca presents an exhibition dedicated to one of America's foremost contemporary artists

Lichtensteins achieved $256,455 in Moran's California Living sale

In City Ballet's coming season, new works and earlier curtain times

Maurice El Medioni, Jewish Algerian pianist, dies at 95

BASE Milano presents 'WE WILL DESIGN - the Convivial Laboratory'

Park rangers search for 2 vandals who toppled ancient rocks at Lake Mead

Modernizing ink: Pioneering artist Lui Shou-Kwan on view at Alisan Fine Arts New York

'A Different World' hits the road to help historically Black colleges

Ultra-high denominations come together at Heritage's CSNS Currency Auction

Robert Beerbohm, pioneering comic book retailer and historian, dies at 71

Antoine Godet paints the portrait of Makiko Furuichi

Why Do Singaporeans Love Playing Mobile Casinos

Designing Inclusive Wellness Spaces in the Home

10 Branding Strategies for Artists

The Changing Creative Voice: A Sculptor's Transition to Atmospheric Painting




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit
Attorneys
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful