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Faith Ringgold’s Path of Maximum Resistance

If you want to enjoy the heat of lava flows that were the racist politics of the United States in the 1960s, the second floor of the New Museum in Manhattan is a good place to be. There you will find the earliest work in “Faith Ringgold: The American,” The first local retrospective by the Harlem-born artist in nearly 40 years.

Now 91 years old, Ringgold was already a dedicated painter when the Black Power movement exploded. And she’s personally invested in the questions it raises: not only how to survive as a Black person in a racist white world, but how, with as a woman, to thrive in any world.

As an aspiring artist, she seems to have made strategic decisions for her growth going forward. One is to continuously produce, no matter what. Another is to seek support in a black matriarchy of family and friends. The third decision – the tough one – is to create a career path with maximum resistance. To this end, she pursues figure drawing, works with art on canvas, and focuses on narrative content at a time when the mainstream art market doesn’t want anything to do with content. of these.

This retrospective, covering three floors of the New Museum, combines figures, craft techniques, and storytelling in creative combinations. And it’s clear that what consigned Ringgold to a track more than half a century ago puts her front and center now. It says so much about the powerful artistry and shifting palate that her 1967 full-size mural “American People Series #20: Die,” an explosive scene of bloody biracial holocaust. , is a star attraction of the Museum of Modern Art. Change the collection permanently in 2019.

Perseverance and creative artistry come early to Ringgold. As a child, she frequently suffered from asthma in the house. To keep her busy, her mother, Willi Posey Jones, a seamstress and clothing designer, provided her with art materials. Creativity is stuck. In 1950, she enrolled in art courses at City College of New York. She also married and soon had two daughters, one of which, Michelle Wallacenow a noted art historian and collaborator with Ringgold on activist projects.

Marriages come and go. What persists is Ringgold’s interest in art. After graduating, she took a job teaching at a public school. There, one of her pupils was the sister of James Baldwin, whose work helped turn Ringgold’s painting – mainly Impressionist landscapes of the 1950s – politically.

The retrospective – organized by Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s artistic director, Gary Carrion-Murayari, a curator, and Madeline Weisburg, an assistant curator – begins at this landmark moment with a brooding group, widely stroked character paintings titled “The American Series. In one, 1963, a row of light-skinned male characters face outward, a pair of eyes filled with malevolence. In another work, called the “Civil Rights Triangle,” four out of five men are depicted as dark-skinned, but the light-skinned fifth man stands above them. All the pictures are about the decentralization of power; Women are almost absent. Ringgold calls this early, wary work “surrealist”.

At this point, she approached members of the Black male art establishment in New York – Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff – for career help but being turned away from what sounds like a pat on the head. She must have realized that she is, professionally, alone, and perhaps that further detracts from her art.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s – years marked by police killings of Black activists across the country – her paintings suddenly became loud, loud and loud. oh, crazy. (“Death” of MoMA comes from this moment, as well as the associated image, “The flag is bleeding,” both paintings are done on a fresco scale to connect them with the fresco “Guernica” by Picasso and Mexico in the past.

Others were almost muted. For a group called “Black light stream” Ringgold completely removed white paint from her palette and darkened her colors with black. The face and body seemed to float out of reach, sinking, all but invisible.

Her political commitments have generally extended. As a co-organizer of an exhibition against the Vietnam War, she was accused of insulting the US flag and arrested. (The charge was dropped.) She designed posters protesting Angela Davis’ imprisonment and the killing of prisoners at Attica. She joined Michelle Wallace in an advertisement for the Whitney Museum of American Art to exclude black women artists.

Her ties to the predominantly white feminist movement are defended, though not with feminism itself. A bold statement of her allegiance comes in the form of a mural she did for the Women’s Correctional Institution on Rikers Island in 1971.

Long enshrined on Rikers and now, at Ringgold’s request, on a long-term loan to the Brooklyn Museum, the work is on display. Using bright colors and a multi-compartment design based on African textiles, it depicts women of different ages and ethnicities engaged in many professions – doctors, athletes, drivers bus, president of the United States – that prisoners, given the opportunity and resources, can pursue once out in the world. Before embarking on the work, Ringgold invited all the women at Rikers to suggest ideas for it. And she discreetly included herself in the photo. (You see her in the profile at the bottom right of the photo)

Collaboration with women has always been appreciated in her art, starting with the contributions of her mother, fashion designer, Willi Posey.

They first worked together in the early 1970s on the “Feminist Painting Series,” a group of canvas paintings modeled on Tibetan thangkas and sewn by her mother. Posey also worked on a group of life-size, African-inspired canvas figures that were worn by Ringgold in performances or displayed as soft sculptural, canvas-like panels. class in 1976 full of majesty”The Awakening and Resurrection of the Black Bicentennial,“Installed on the third floor of the museum.

Finally, in 1980, Posey sewed Ringgold’s first color-painted cotton quilt, “Echo of Harlem,” helping to create the prototype for what would become the artist’s most familiar art medium. After her mother’s death the following year, Ringgold paid homage to the “Mother’s Blanket,” a plush blanket featuring black, angel-like, doll-like figures made from rags that the woman saving for future use.

A construction on the painted quilt pattern, known as the “story quilt”, caught Ringgold’s attention both inside and outside the art world. Vehicles for personal narratives, often annotated with pre-sewn text boards, some of these mounts in shape, as in the case of “Change: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pound Weight Loss Story” Quilt,” since 1991. Most are a mix of fiction and autobiography.

The most famous of these is the “Tar Beach” single blanket, illustrating Ringgold’s childhood memories of summer night picnics on a Harlem rooftop with the George Washington Bridge glowing in the distance. Out of the duvet, Ringgold created a set of pictures that, in 1991, came out as a widely acclaimed children’s book, the first of many Ringgold paintings did. (You can peruse them all in an exhibition reading room on the museum’s 7th floor.)

The quilted form is also the vehicle for Ringgold’s most famous and intricate painting project, “The French Connection,” presented in 12 large-scale hangings, like chapters, on blue walls midnight on the 4th floor of the museum. It concerns the experience of one main character, a young African-American painter named Willia Marie Simone, who first traveled to Europe in the 1920s with her two young children, to immerse herself in the world. European art – a journey, as it happens, Ringgold made herself in 1961 for the same reason, and together with her mother and daughters.

Once settled in, Simone was everywhere, meeting everyone. She poses for Matisse. She spends time going to Gertrude Stein’s salon. She joins time-traveling countrymen – Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks – to sew a sunflower quilt in Van Gogh’s Arles. Finally, back in Paris, she paints an all-female picture dejeuner sur l’herbe, where all the picnickers were Ringgold’s family and friends. In fact, there is a male in this scene, Pablo Picasso, posing thin and nude on a towel on the lawn. No one seemed to notice him.

Overall, the “French Collection,” in tone, is like a far cry from the gritty, cursed “Americans” pictures of the 1960s (and from the dreaded “We Came to America” ​​painting, apocalypse – in the show – it was Ringgold painted shortly after the 12-part series was made). But there is also politics in French paintings, shown in the presence of Black women guided by Willia Marie Simone, whose global fame is, of course, a version of Ringgold herself.

Half a century ago, a presence like hers had to struggle to survive in the mainstream art world. Now look around, and you see it, not everywhere yet, but more and more. Faith Ringgold, artist-inciter-seeer, can be thanked for that.


Faith Ringgold: The American

Through June 5 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, Manhattan. 212-219-1222; newmuseum.org.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/arts/design/faith-ringgold-new-museum.html Faith Ringgold’s Path of Maximum Resistance

Fry Electronics Team

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