Artist, educator, and native New Yorker Faith Ringgold’s paintings, quilts, and mixed-media installations are celebrated for their unflinching portrayal of African American and female experiences. Born in 1930 and raised in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, Ringgold’s art was influenced by the works of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, both of whom are included in the Artists of Harlem Fund. Though she sold few paintings from her early solo shows, Ringgold has recently come back into the spotlight as a shining example of socially conscious art from the twentieth century.
The public’s recent interest in the artist was sparked by Serpentine Gallery’s 2019 hugely successful retrospective of her work, the first of its kind in Europe. That same year, as a part of their reopening and permanent collection reinstallation, the Museum of Modern Art hung her painting The American People Series #20: Die, 1967, beside Pablo Picasso’s iconic Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. On February 17, 2022, a greatly anticipated retrospective of her body of work, “Faith Ringgold: American People,” will open at the New Museum in Manhattan.
Ringgold in the news
Recently, former New York First Lady Chirlane McCray announced that Ringgold’s 1971 oil painting For the Women’s House will move from the Rikers Island Correctional Institution, where it has lived since its creation, to the Brooklyn Museum. In 2017, the museum prominently featured the artwork in its blockbuster exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85.”
A rise in Ringgold’s market
While only three of Ringgold’s paintings have been offered at auction since 2008, they all sold at an average of 2x their pre-sale estimates. In 2015, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art set Ringgold’s auction record by purchasing one of her quilts, initially commissioned by Oprah Winfrey as a gift for Maya Angelou on her 61st birthday, for $461,000. In 2018, her 1997 acrylic-on-quilt painting Listen to the Trees hammered at $375,000, almost four times its expected sale price of $80,000–$120,000k.
Athena’s analysis also reveals that, between 2008 and 2019, the average price of a painting by Ringgold has grown at a compound 30.4% annually. With her forthcoming retrospective and increasing visibility, the artist’s works are likely to continue to rapidly increase in value.
Ringgold’s life and art
Ringgold’s interest in art began as a young girl. Confined to her parents’ house in Harlem due to chronic asthma, she kept herself busy and entertained by drawing and learning to sew from her mother, who worked as a fashion designer. Though she always intended to study art, her application to City College’s fine arts program was denied due to her race and gender. Ringgold instead studied art education, graduating in 1955.
Shortly after, Ringgold got an MFA and began her career as a painter, all while continuing to teach. In 1963, Ringgold wrote to the artist Romare Bearden (also included in the Fund) requesting membership into his artists group Spiral, an association dedicated to the discussion of the intersection of the Civil Rights movement and artistic practice. She was rejected outright. After struggling for many years to find gallery representation, she was finally offered a solo exhibition by Robert Newman in 1967. Her first show included works from the “American People Series,” 1963–69, which responded to contemporary political events with graphic representations of marches, riots, and racialized violence. Reflecting on these works, she wrote: “It was what was going on in America, and I wanted people to look at these paintings and see themselves… I wanted to create art that made people stop and look . . . The more they look, the more they see.”
In the 1970s, Ringgold became active in feminist groups like the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee, a collective which banded together to protest the Whitney Biennial’s failure to feature a significant number of female artists. The next decade saw the artist making her first story quilts, elaborate narrative paintings surrounded by borders of textiles. Her story quilt Tar Beach, currently in the collection of the Guggenheim, inspired her first children’s book of the same name, for which she won over twenty awards. Still living and working in New Jersey, Ringgold has had a trailblazing career in the arts and activism for nearly six decades.
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