Faith Ringgold has made flags bleed and girls fly. She has painted indelible images that speak to the racism endemic to American society and crafted quilts that inspire joy and hope. She has created spaces for Black women artists kept out of white-led mainstream institutions, and she has pushed behemoths like the Museum of Modern Art to be more inclusive. (In 1970, John Hightower, a former director of that institution, once wrote her and artist Tom Lloyd a letter saying that the two had “made an enormous difference in the outlook of the Museum of Modern Art.”) She has written award-winning books, and she once curated an exhibition that went down in history and briefly landed her in jail. All of these activities made Ringgold one of today’s most inventive artists. “Creativity,” she once told ARTnews, “is empowering.”
It can often seem as though there’s nothing that Ringgold, now 91, hasn’t been able to do successfully, a line of thinking that’s only reinforced by her New Museum retrospective, which opened in New York on Thursday. Building on previous surveys mounted by the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Neuberger Museum of Art in Upstate New York, the Serpentine Galleries in London, and Glenstone in Potomac, Maryland, the New Museum show is Ringgold’s biggest to date. It shows just how expansive her oeuvre is and demonstrates how innovative her works in multiple mediums have always been—even when they weren’t being shown by the biggest museums in the U.S.
To reflect on Ringgold’s varied output, below is a look at six essential works by the artist.