has always dreamed of Africa.
While other boys wanted to become fire fighters or astronauts, Lamp imagined himself traveling to the exciting and romanticized continent of which his missionary high school teachers spoke. Their tales of Africa were fantastic, albeit distorted.Frederick Lamp GRD ’82
“I’d seen African art on travel posters and it fascinated me,” Lamp said.
That childhood fantasy would eventually propel him out of Pennsylvania to Sierra Leone and Guinea, first with the Peace Corps and later to conduct field research. Now, Lamp has brought his passion to the Yale University Art Gallery, where he has begun work as the gallery’s first curator of African art.
Enriched by recent donations and large gifts in African objects, the Yale University Art Gallery is positioned to become one of the most significant university collections of African art — a process that Lamp has been chosen to oversee. Under his direction, the YUAG will create a new Department of African Art with a permanent exhibition space in the renovated Louis Kahn gallery, slated to open in 2006.
“The Department of African Art will be an important center for African art,” Lamp said.
Sitting in his new office, Lamp seems unfazed by the numerous surrounding files and boxes of materials that he must organize and catalogue. A larger-than life-size photograph of a masked dancer in ceremonial garb watches Lamp from the wall behind, an added presence in the room. When Lamp stands in front of the picture, he seems to drift into the African landscape.
Lamp’s primary tasks as curator will be to acquire new pieces, design and prepare the new gallery space, and sift through the roughly 600 African art objects recently donated to Yale by one alumnus. Lamp called the donation one of the most important private collections of African art in the country.
Lamp certainly possesses the qualifications for this momentous new position. After attending graduate school at Yale, Lamp worked at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African Art and served as the curator for African and Asian arts at The Baltimore Museum of Art — two museums known for their vast collections. He is also a noted specialist on the Baga people, who live on the coast of Guinea.
“We are indeed fortunate that Frederick Lamp has agreed to bring his rich experience and formidable skills — back to Yale,” said Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II director of the YUAG.
But despite the large collections with which Lamp has previously worked, he said he is excited to be handling Yale’s current holdings. Most other museums have broad collections of African art objects that vary in quality, but Lamp said Yale’s collection makes up for its smaller size with its high quality.
“The collection here is particularly fine, consisting of top-notch objects,” he said.
In particular, Lamp said he is looking forward to displaying a large D’mba mask that will come to Yale as a part of the newly acquired private collection. Carved from a single piece of wood, Lamp said the D’mba masks are some of the largest in Africa and are “pretty impressive.”
Marissa Ain ’04, an art history major who works in the development office at the YUAG, said she felt the new acquisitions, as well as the renovated gallery space — the James and Laura Ross Gallery of African Art– will draw more visitors to the YUAG. In its prior location, Ain said, the University’s African art holdings were inaccessible.
Despite the fact that she specializes in modern art, Ain said she looks forward to the new installment.
“It’s art that I appreciate,” she said. “Picasso, Matisse and all the major names are African influenced.”
When the new gallery space opens, Lamp said he hopes to help viewers appreciate the African art on a number of levels — from its influence on the forms of modern art to its traditional context in Africa. He said he plans to incorporate music and dance into the exhibits when the new gallery opens.
“Looking at its forms, you can see in some of those masks the faces of [Picasso’s] ‘[Les] Mademoiselles D’Avignon,'” he said.
In addition to the recent donations of objects, the African Art Department has acquired three new archives of photographic and informational materials pertaining to African art that Lamp said will eventually be available to the public electronically.
This coming month, Lamp will be speaking at the YUAG’s “Art and Learning at Yale,” a three day program for patrons and friends of the YUAG. This February’s event will feature a number of African- and African American-themed presentations, in an effort to welcome Lamp to his new position and publicize the Gallery’s recent efforts in the field.
“I am thrilled to be here,” Lamp said. “I can’t wait to get started on the design.”
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