Although Faith Ringgold is best known as the progenitor of the African American story quilt revival that began in the 1970s, it is her pointed political paintings of the 1960s that are the focus of American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s, on view at Miami Art Museum from November 6, 2011 – January 1, 2012. With only a few notable exceptions, these once influential paintings disappeared from view, omitted from critical, art historical discourse for more than 40 years. Coordinated to coincide with Ringgold’s 80th birthday, the exhibition includes approximately 60 works from the landmark series American People (1963-1967) and Black Light (1967-1971), along with related murals and political posters. The exhibition will be on view during Miami Art Week and Art Basel Miami Beach 2011, the most important art show in the United States and a cultural and social highlight for the Americas.
American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s was co-curated by MAM Director Thom Collins and Tracy Fitzpatrick, curator at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, where the exhibition opened to critical acclaim. Holland Cotter of the New York Times wrote of its presentation at the Neuberger, “it’s a potent visual experience and an important piece of American art history… That the Neuberger did this show is a gift.”
Ringgold’s two earliest series, American People (1962-1967) and Black Light (1967-1969), have not been seen together since they were first exhibited in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In both series, the artist explores the issues that were at the forefront of her experience of racial conflict in the United States. In her words, “American People is about the condition of black and white America and the paradoxes of integration felt by many black Americans.” In Big Black (1967), from the Black Light series, Ringgold celebrates the tonal range of African American skin by creating several abstracted studies of physiognomies suggested by African masks. Ringgold’s art aims to breathe life into her works composed entirely of browns and blacks, reds and yellows, blues and greens; the images seem to emanate light without the use of the color white. Thus, Ringgold used color to investigate identity and difference both literally and figuratively. In one of her most compelling works, Flag for the Moon: Die Nigger (1969), also from the Black Light series, she used the image of the American flag, placing the word “die” behind the stars and an infamous racial epithet within the bleeding, red stripes. She once explained to an interviewer: “It would be impossible for me to picture the American flag just as a flag, as if that is the whole story. I need to communicate my relationship with this flag based on my experience as a black woman in America.”
Such text-based works prompted political posters such as People’s Flag Show (1970), produced for an exhibition organized by Ringgold and two fellow artists in support of a gallerist who was arrested for exhibiting antiwar sculpture fabricated out of the American flag. The exhibition contained over 200 works made from or about the American flag; Ringgold was arrested and convicted of violating the Flag Protection Act of 1968. Another poster, United States of Attica (1971), her most widely distributed poster of the 1970s, was created in response to an uprising of prisoners in the NY State Attica prison. The image of a map of the U.S. describes acts of violence in America. At the bottom of the image Ringgold writes, “This map of American violence is incomplete. Please write in whatever you find lacking.”
It was through these paintings, posters and murals from the 1960s that Ringgold found her political voice, along with the artistic tools with which to express it. More broadly, these works are critical to re-conceptualizing our understanding of artistic production in the 1960s. In a period defined by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, it is incongruous that the art of the period is defined by the rather sterile movements of Pop art and Minimalism, movements that arguably fail to connect with the social and political circumstances of the time. Faith Ringgold’s work offers not only clear perspective on that turbulent moment in the history of our country, but also insight into what it meant to be an African American woman working as an artist at the time.
For a complete list of Art Basel Miami Beach / Miami Art Week (November 30 – December 4, 2011) exhibitions and special events, visit http://miamiartmuseum.org/miami-art-week.asp.
Exhibition Organization and Support
American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Painting of the 1960s was curated by Miami Art Museum Director Thom Collins and Neuberger Museum of Art Curator and Purchase College Associate Professor of Art History Tracy Fitzpatrick with students from the Purchase College, SUNY, spring 2010 Art History Exhibition Seminar.
Exhibition support has been provided by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.
Miami Art Museum
Miami Art Museum, a modern and contemporary art museum located in downtown Miami, FL, is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting international art of the 20th and 21st centuries with an emphasis on the cultures of the Atlantic Rim—the Americas, Europe and Africa—from which the vast majority of Miami residents hail. Miami Art Museum’s educational programming currently reaches more than 30,000 children and adults every year, with the largest art education program outside the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The new Miami Art Museum in Museum Park, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is scheduled to open to the public in 2013. The new facility will provide room to showcase growing collections, expanded exhibition space to bring more world-class exhibitions to Miami-Dade County, and an educational complex. For more information about Miami Art Museum, visit miamiartmuseum.org or call 305.375.3000.
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, Miami Art Museum is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts; with the support of Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, the Cultural Affairs Council, the Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners. Miami Art Museum is an accessible facility. For sign language interpretation or assistive listening devices please call Miami Art Museum’s education department 305.375.4073 at least two weeks in advance. Materials in accessible format may be requested.