The National Gallery of Art has acquired The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding (1967), its first painting by Faith Ringgold (b. 1930). This pivotal work by a leading figure of contemporary art exemplifies the artist’s skill in using art as a vehicle to question the social dynamics of race, gender, and power. As a visual storyteller, Ringgold is known for her thought-provoking depictions of the difficult realities of the American experience. The painting was acquired with funds gifted by Glenstone Foundation and from the Patrons’ Permanent Fund. On view through October 24, 2021, at Glenstone Museum, the work is scheduled to appear in Ringgold's retrospective at the New Museum in New York from February 17 to June 5, 2022.
“This may well be the most important purchase of a single work of contemporary art since the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollock’s No. 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) in 1976,” said Harry Cooper, senior curator and head of the department of modern and contemporary art.
For Ringgold, the American flag is a potent and powerful symbol. She has said, “The flag is the only truly subversive and revolutionary abstraction one can paint.” This painting is part of her first fully developed body of work, The American People Series (1963–1967). Considered to be her most powerful series, it features unflinching and often puzzling depictions of the racial tensions and political divisions in the United States during the 1960s.
The Flag is Bleeding examines American identity and history in and through an iconic depiction of the flag, one of Ringgold’s signature motifs. The painting features a semitransparent US flag with colors that appear to bleed or run as a bold backdrop to the ambiguous interactions of three figures—a Black man, a white woman, and a white man—who stand with arms linked. The Black man, who holds a knife with one hand and covers his bleeding heart with the other, simultaneously protects the wound and pledges allegiance to the flag. The vague and shifting relationships of the figures speak to the violent protests in Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington, DC, and elsewhere during the politically turbulent era of the civil rights and antiwar movements of the late 1960s.