The South Etna Montauk Foundation (6 South Etna Ave., Montauk, NY) presents “Faith Ringgold: Jazz Stories,” an exhibition of recent work by one of the United States’ most important living artists. Featuring five of her signature Story Quilts, the presentation incorporates over twenty drawings, paintings, sculptures, and prints from Ringgold’s “Jazz Stories” series, which she began in 2004. Ringgold’s renown stems in part from the wide range of media she incorporates into her practice, and this exhibition charts Ringgold’s connection to jazz across numerous techniques.
For this exhibition, the South Etna Montauk Foundation has worked closely with ACA Galleries, which has long represented and championed Ringgold’s work. Organized to complement “Faith Ringgold: American People,” her major retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, “Faith Ringgold: Jazz Stories” will be on view from May 28th through June 25, 2022.
Storytelling is at the center of Faith Ringgold’s practice, and for more than fifty years, she’s made art that documents the American narrative. In works both searing and disarmingly beautiful, Ringgold has explored segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, Black pride, and the politics of skin color, assembling a richly textured history of the United States. Prefiguring a contemporary interest in works that address personal identity, Ringgold’s practice has long centered the importance of her lived experience, sharing how it felt to be a black woman in the 1960s and the decades hence.
Describing the trajectory of her work, art historian, curator and critic Nancy Spector has said: “Ringgold’s paintings from the 60s and 70s are overtly political, and present an angry, critical reappraisal of the American dream glimpsed through the filter of race and gender relations. Ringgold’s more recent aesthetic strategy is not one of political agitation or blatant visual provocation. Instead, she has come to embrace the potential for social change by undermining racial and gender stereotypes through impassioned and optimistic presentations of black female heroines.”
The Story Quilts, which Ringgold began making in the 1980s, illustrate this optimistic approach and increasingly feature images of the joy to be found in family, community, jazz, and music.
The works in Faith Ringgold: Jazz Stories focus on music, a subject close to Ringgold’s heart, and provide an extraordinary opportunity to consider Ringgold’s relationship to jazz. As a child in 1930s Harlem, many of her neighbors were renowned musicians.
As Ringgold recently told The New Yorker, “I have spent a lifetime listening to the great music of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and others. Many of these musicians also lived in Harlem, so, even though they were stars, they were also neighbors.”
But the figures that populate the paintings, drawings, and prints in Jazz Stories remain anonymous. Ringgold’s crooners, trumpeters, dancers, and drummers might be anyone; without a real-life analog, these works draw attention to the act of making music. Ringgold further emphasizes the musicians themselves by situating them within fields of wiggling shapes and primary colors, animating the movement of their music. Jazz fills the entirety of each piece, removing the distraction of a specific time or place, and these jubilant works ensure that viewers feel their music without hearing a note.
As Ringgold herself has said of Jazz Stories, “I could easily spend the rest of my life singing my song in pictures.”
Jazz Stories features works that, with one exception, date to a period between 2001 and 2004 when Ringgold was in her seventies. Works from this time are notable for how they offer an opportunity to consider Ringgold’s understanding of her own evolution. Reflecting upon a lifetime of interactions with jazz and musicians, Ringgold approached Jazz Stories as a lens through which to review experiences from her. As she describes it, her work serves as an historical record, tracking how certain parts of the American experience have changed over the course of her life, and how others have remained the same.
Ringgold’s work has been celebrated for its focus on social justice and the lived realities of social oppression, but Jazz Stories provides a platform for the exploration of Black joy. Ringgold has been a trailblazer throughout her career, often among the first to address difficult subject matter head on, thereby creating space for Black artists in predominantly white institutions. And these works are no different: they weave moments of joy with songs of deep sorrow, engaging both the levity and weight that jazz can express.
The art world is abuzz with word of Ringgold’s profound talent, giving her the credit she has long deserved. The New Museum’s recent and critically acclaimed retrospective spanned three floors of their building; a recent cover of The New Yorker featured one of her Story Quilts, Jazz Stories: Mama Can Sing, Papa Can Blow #1: Somebody Stole My Broken Heart, along with an intervie; and late last year, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., acquired her large-scale painting The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding (1967).
ABOUT FAITH RINGGOLD
Faith Ringgold, born 1930 in Harlem, New York, is a painter, sculptor, teacher, activist and author of numerous award winning children’s books. Ringgold received her B.S. and M.A. degrees in visual art from the City College of New York in 1955 and 1959. Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of California in San Diego, Faith Ringgold has received 23 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees. She is the recipient of more than 80 awards and honors including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; two National Endowment for the Arts Awards; The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award and the Medal of Honor for Fine Arts from the National Arts Club. In 2017 Faith Ringgold was elected as a member into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Ringgold’s work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums in the United States and abroad including The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; The Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; The Boston Museum of Fine Art, MA; The High Museum, GA; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; The Studio Museum, NY; Glenstone Museum, MD; and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, among others. Faith Ringgold has been represented worldwide by ACA Galleries since 1995.
ABOUT SOUTH ETNA MONTAUK FOUNDATION
Established in 2021 by Adam Lindemann and Amalia Dayan, South Etna Montauk Foundation brings contemporary artists to Montauk to present their work in a storied American place that has served as home and source of inspiration to artists across generations. In addition hosting public exhibitions in its gallery space in the Village of Montauk, this non-profit organization offers East End residencies to artists.