Ahead of a Faith Ringgold retrospective due to open at the New Museum in February, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has acquired a painting from the artist’s famed “American People Series.” Titled The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding (1967), the painting was gifted to the museum by the Glenstone Foundation, which was formed by ARTnews Top 200 Collectors Emily and Mitchell Rales. (Mitchell is the president of the National Gallery’s board.) It is the first painting by Ringgold to enter the museum’s collection.
In The Flag is Bleeding, a white woman is shown interlocking arms with two men, one of them white, the other Black. All of their forms are partially obscured by an American flag whose stripes ooze blood. The source of some of that blood appears to be the Black man’s chest, which has on it a wound that he covers with his hand, in a position that recalls the one taken while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. In the hand not held to the wound, the man holds a knife.
National Gallery curator Harry Cooper said in an interview that staff at the museum initially thought that Ringgold’s work may prove too expensive to acquire. But with director Kaywin Feldman’s encouragement, “We aimed high in really going after artists who were underrepresented in the collection,” he said.
When they reached out to Ringgold’s dealer they were presented with a selection of works that Ringgold had kept in her personal collection for years. Among them was The Flag is Bleeding. “We at the National Gallery are trying more and more to represent the paintings that have something important to say about the nation,” Cooper said.
Ringgold has previously made use of the American flag in works the deal head-on with racism in the U.S. “The flag is the only truly subversive and revolutionary abstraction one can paint,” she once said. Similar works to The Flag is Bleeding appeared in a recent Ringgold survey held by the Raleses’ Glenstone museum in collaboration with the Serpentine Galleries in London. The painting is due to appear in Ringgold’s New Museum show.