Met’s Africa Department Head, Julie Jones, to Retire, Alisa LaGamma Named as Replacement

Alisa LaGamma. (Courtesy the Met)

Alisa LaGamma. (Courtesy the Met)

Today the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that Julie Jones, head of its department of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas for the past 21 years, will retire this April and take the new title “curator emeritus.”

Alisa LaGamma, a curator in the department, will become its new head.

Full press release follows:

(New York, January 8, 2013)—Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that Julie Jones, an eminent curator and scholar of the art of the ancient Americas, will retire at the end of March 2013, following 21 years as head of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, including the past six years as Andrall E. Pearson Curator in Charge. Her tenure at the Museum began in 1975. She will become Curator Emeritus as of April 1.

Mr. Campbell announced further that Alisa LaGamma, a Curator in the department who is a specialist in African art, will become Curator in Charge of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas on April 1. She was elected to the new position at the January 8 meeting of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.

“Julie Jones was one of the first curators of Precolumbian art to work at an art museum in the United States,” stated Mr. Campbell in making the announcement. “Over the past nearly four decades at the Met, her contributions to the field have been significant—from the exhibitions she organized to the catalogues and essays she authored, the gallery renovations and reinstallations she supervised, and the range and coordination of work by the team of curators she led.”

He commented further: “I look forward to working with Alisa LaGamma in her new role as head of the department, succeeding Julie Jones. Over her 16 years to date at the Met, Alisa has made a major contribution to the advancement of public understanding of Africa’s cultural heritage. She has demonstrated superb scholarship and leadership abilities through her numerous exhibitions and her work on various curatorial committees. I am confident she will supervise her department with deftness and skill in the years ahead.”

Julie Jones
Julie Jones began her career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1975 as a Curator of Precolumbian art. She was promoted to Curator and Acting Department Head in 1990, and became Curator in Charge of the department in 1992.

Prior to her years at the Metropolitan Museum, she worked at New York’s Museum of Primitive Art. Founded in 1954, it was the first museum in the United States formed specifically to exhibit the traditional arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Julie Jones began work as a graduate intern in 1960, then became an assistant curator in 1965, and a curator in 1974. In 1969, the entire collection of the Museum of Primitive Art was offered as a gift to the Metropolitan Museum by its founder, Nelson A. Rockefeller; Julie Jones was one of the Museum of Primitive Art’s curators to subsequently transition to the Metropolitan, where a separate department for the care, study, and exhibition of the works was being established. At the Metropolitan Museum, The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing was designed and built to provide galleries for the collection of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The new wing opened to the public in February 1982 and received more than 800,000 visitors during its first year.

At the Metropolitan Museum, Julie Jones organized exhibitions that highlighted various aspects of the ancient American world. The first of these was Desert Valley: Early Works from Ica, Peru (1983) that featured the gifts from an early supporter of Precolumbian art at the Museum, Nathan Cummings. Other exhibitions with Precolumbian themes followed: The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection (1985); Houses for the Hereafter, Funerary Temples of Guerrero, Mexico (1987); Andean Four-Cornered Hats (1990); Loma Negra, a Peruvian Lord’s Tomb (1992), which displayed an important group of Moche metal objects in gold, silver, and copper, representing an area of great strength within the Museum’s Precolumbian holdings; Ancient Peruvian Mantles (1995); Jade in Ancient Costa Rica (1999); and Heritage of Power: Ancient Sculpture from West Mexico—The Andrall E. Pearson Family Collection (2004), which led to gifts from the Pearson family that enriched the Museum’s collection of West Mexican ceramics. The most recent of the Precolumbian shows was in 2011, The Andean Tunic. Julie Jones also contributed to Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries (1990), a landmark exhibition that included important works from the beginnings of the art history of Mexico, the fullest regional art history of the Americas. The exhibition raised the profile of Mexican art in the United States significantly.

Over the years that Julie Jones was in charge of the department, she oversaw the renovation of a number of Rockefeller Wing galleries, working with her team of curators and the Museum’s installation designers. The 1993 renovation and reinstallation of the Jan Mitchell Treasury for Precolumbian Works of Art in Gold integrated the 1991 gift of Precolumbian gold objects by Jan Mitchell into the existing treasury. In 2007, an extensive renovation of the Oceanic galleries was completed under the curatorial guidance of Associate Curator Eric Kjellgren. That renovation project encompassed the adjacent Native North American Gallery, which was expanded due to the Museum’s increased activity in collecting and exhibiting American Indian art. That interest began with the opening of the loan exhibition Native Paths: American Indian Art from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection (1998), which was also overseen by Julie Jones. It was followed by The Responsive Eye: Ralph T. Coe and the Collecting of American Indian Art in 2003. The Coe Collection was a bequest to the Metropolitan in 2011.

For the past 25 years, Julie Jones has served on the Editorial Board of the Metropolitan Museum Journal, which publishes original research into works of art in the Museum’s collections.

Alisa LaGamma
A Curator in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas since 1996, Alisa LaGamma is responsible for the Metropolitan Museum’s holdings of African art, which comprise the leading collection of African art in a fine arts institution.

Alisa LaGamma was born in Lubumbashi, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and spent formative years in the Ivory Coast, Togo, Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa as the daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer. She received her undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Virginia and her M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in art history and archaeology from Columbia University. Her doctoral research in Central Africa explored the performance of a celebrated mask form in terms of its socio-cultural significance and choreography. That study was supported by a Metropolitan Museum of Art pre-doctoral fellowship. LaGamma’s career has been distinguished by her far-ranging examinations of Africa’s artistic legacy in relation to contemporary realities in the region.

At the Metropolitan Museum, she has generated a critically acclaimed program of exhibitions that has explored issues fundamental to the appreciation of African art and related these to the broader history of art. Topics addressed through these exhibitions include authorship, ontological systems, reliquary art and ancestor veneration, the aesthetics of textile design and its influence on contemporary art, and the individual as a subject of major genres of artistic representation.

These exhibitions include: Master Hand: Individuality and Creativity among Yoruba Sculptors (1997); Central African Textiles from the Collection of William B. Goldstein (1999); Art and Oracle: Spirit Voices of Africa (2000); Genesis: Ideas of Origins in African Sculpture (2002-2003); Echoing Images: CoupIes in African Sculpture (2004); Eternal Ancestors: Art of the Central African Reliquary (2007-2008); The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End (2008-2009); African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva: A Legacy of Collecting (2009); Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents (2011); and Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculpture (2011-12).

Upon completion of her doctorate, Alisa LaGamma worked on the reinstallation of the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of African art in 1996 and has overseen the continual updating of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing’s African galleries since then. She has also been responsible for the acquisition of scores of works of African art that have built on the strengths and expanded the scope of the Museum’s collection, including a 16th-century illuminated Gospel from Ethiopia, an 18th-century Madagascar Couple, a 19th-century Kongo Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a 21st-century work by El Anatsui.

Her research has been communicated through publications, public lectures, graduate seminars, and the training of teachers and docents. She has held university teaching appointments at the Institute of Fine Arts/New York University, Columbia University, Barnard College, University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers University, and has given public lectures at dozens of institutions in the United States, Europe, and Africa, including regular lectures at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Her grants and awards include: winner of the Prix International du Livre d’Art Tribal for Heroic Africans (2012); Iris Award, Bard Graduate Center (2012); Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellowship (2010); and Association of Museum Curators Honorable Mention Award for Outstanding Exhibition Catalogue for Eternal Ancestors.

Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at Metropolitan Museum
More than 11,500 objects comprise the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of art from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas today. They span 3,000 years, three continents, and many islands, and represent a rich diversity of cultural traditions.

The African collections of the department consist of works representative of the artistic traditions of sub-Saharan Africa’s diverse cultures. Major geographic areas are included, from the western Sudan south and east through central and southern Africa. The works range from refined Afro-Portuguese ivories of the 15th century to the formally powerful works that appealed to early-20th-century artists. The ancient Americas are represented in the Metropolitan’s collections by Precolumbian objects primarily from Mexico and Peru, which cover a 3,000-year period beginning around 1500 B.C. and ending with the arrival of Europeans in America in the late 15th century A.D. Included in the Oceanic collections are works from the Pacific Islands that encompass the archipelagos of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, as well as Australia and the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia. Oceania is home to more than a thousand distinct cultures and an immense diversity of artistic traditions.

Thanks to Art in America for pointing us to this story.