“Matisse and Picasso in their brilliance absorbed the formal qualities [of African art] . . . but they were not at all intellectually curious and that really is the history of modernist engagement with this material—that it was void of content except for the associations that the West framed it with.”
Caro Fowler speaks with Alisa LaGamma, a specialist of African art and Ceil and Michael E. Pulitzer Curator in Charge for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Alisa discusses the formative influence of her childhood spent in the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Togo, Senegal, South Africa, and Italy, her abiding interest in Renaissance art, and how she landed in curatorial work. She reflects on several of her exhibition projects that have sought to anchor African art historically and conceptually and shares her thinking behind the Rockefeller Wing reinstallation that is currently underway at the Met.
A transcript for this episode is forthcoming. If you require one immediately, please write to [email protected].
Born in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alisa LaGamma spent her formative years in sub-Saharan Africa. Graduate studies in African art history at Columbia University led her to undertake research in southern Gabon on the living tradition of Punu masks. A curator at the Metropolitan since 1996, Alisa’s exhibition projects have been devoted to topics ranging from authorship to portraiture. In 2010 she was a fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership and in 2012 the Bard Graduate Center recognized her work with the Iris Award for Outstanding Scholarship.
This conversation was recorded on October 15, 2020. Photo: Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Memorial head, Akan peoples; Kwahu traditional area, Ghana, nineteenth–twentieth centuries. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from the Collection of Nina and Gordon Bunschaft, 1994. Featured in the exhibition Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures, curated by Alisa LaGamma at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011.