Ahead of a Faith Ringgold retrospective scheduled to open at the New Museum in February, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC has acquired a painting from the artist’s famous “American People Series”. Title The American People Series # 18: The Flag Bleeds (1967), the painting was donated to the museum by the Glenstone Foundation, formed by ARTnews Top 200 collectors Emily and Mitchell Rales. (Mitchell is the chairman of the board of the National Gallery.) This is the first Ringgold painting to enter the museum’s collection.
In The flag bleeds, a white woman is represented entwined by two men, one white, the other black. All their shapes are partially obscured by an American flag whose stripes ooze blood. The source of some of this blood appears to be the chest of the black man, who bears a wound which he covers with his hand, in a position reminiscent of that taken during the recitation of the pledge of allegiance. In the hand not attached to the wound, the man holds a knife.
National Gallery curator Harry Cooper said in an interview that museum staff initially believed Ringgold’s work might prove too expensive to acquire. But with encouragement from director Kaywin Feldman, “We set our sights high to really tackle the artists who were under-represented in the collection,” he said.
When they contacted Ringgold’s dealer, they received a selection of works that Ringgold had kept in his personal collection for years. Among them was The flag bleeds. “At the National Gallery, we increasingly try to represent paintings that have something important to say about the nation,” Cooper said.
Ringgold has used the American flag in the past in anti-racism work in the United States. “The flag is the only truly subversive and revolutionary abstraction that can be painted,” she once said. Similar works to The flag bleeds appeared in a recent Ringgold survey conducted by the Glenstone Museum in Raleses in conjunction with the Serpentine Galleries in London. The painting is to appear in the exhibition at the New Ringgold Museum.