NEW ORLEANS, LA– William A. Fagaly, Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art, is retiring from the New Orleans Museum of Art after 50 years of service.
“Since joining NOMA in 1966, then the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, Bill has been recognized as an internationally renowned curator and scholar,” said Susan M. Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director at NOMA. “As NOMA’s first curator of African art, Bill’s extraordinary work to expand the institution and build the African art collection over the past 50 years will always remain a legacy of his work as a critical partner in NOMA’s evolution as a museum with a world-class collection of African art. His legacy extends to the self-taught arena as well where groundbreaking exhibitions helped to establish a fuller perspective on that under appreciated field. It is fitting that Bill’s last two exhibitions at NOMA, Kongo across the Waters and Pierre Joseph Landry: Patriot, Planter Sculptor, highlighted both his African and self-taught expertise respectively”
“It has been gratifying to have witnessed the growth of a small, local art museum to become one of America’s leading art institutions.” said Fagaly. “I am pleased that I had a part in building a great African art collection for a city I love and whose majority population is African-American.”
A graduate from Indiana University in Bloomington, Fagaly served as assistant registrar for the university museum prior to his arrival in New Orleans. During his tenure with NOMA, Fagaly began as Registrar and Curator of African Art. From 1967 through 1972, he served as Curator of Collections. In 1972, he was named Acting Director and Curator of Collections during the search for a new director. In 1973 he was named Chief Curator, a position he held until 1980. In 1981, Fagaly was appointed as the Assistant Director for Art with additional curatorial responsibilities for Ethnographic and Contemporary American Self-Taught Art. In 1997, he was named the Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art. In 2001, Fagaly retired from his position at the museum while retaining his title as African art curator in a part-time position until 2016 marking his fiftieth anniversary this year.
During his fifty year tenure with NOMA, Fagaly has organized over 90 art exhibitions.
The list of exhibitions with accompanying catalogs is diverse, including the widely respected series, the New Orleans Triennial (1967-2001), Moon Rock and Earthworks (1970), Treasures of Peter Carl Fabergé and other Master Jewelers from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection (1972), David Butler: Louisiana Folk Sculptor (1976), Five from Louisiana (1977), Shapes of Power, Belief and Celebration: African Art from New Orleans Collections (1989), Roots of American Jazz: African Musical Instruments from New Orleans Collections (1995) “He’s the Prettiest:” A Tribute to Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana’s Fifty Years of Mardi Gras Indian Suiting (1997), Ancestors of Congo Square: African Art in the New Orleans Museum of Art (2011) and Pierre Joseph Landry: Patriot, Planter, Sculptor (2015).
Serving as guest curator, Fagaly has been invited by other institutions, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, the Museum of American Folk Art (MAFA) in New York City, University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie, the Portland Museum of Art in Oregon and the Springfield Art Museum (SAM) in Missouri, to produce a variety of exhibitions including the Corcoran’s 41st Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting in 1989, Louisiana Folk Paintings (MAFA) in 1973 and Watercolor U. S. A. 1999 (SAM). In 2004, Fagaly served as the guest curator of Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan, a major retrospective of the Louisiana African-American self-taught artist, at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Rizzoli published the accompanying monograph for the exhibition. After its premiere in New York, the exhibition traveled to New Orleans and Chicago. In 2005, Fagaly co-curated an exhibition of African art, Resonance from the Past: African Sculpture from the New Orleans Museum of Art, at the Museum for African Art in New York. This exhibition traveled to eight American art museums, including the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
An accomplished writer, Fagaly has published over 100 articles and essays in exhibition catalogs and in numerous publications including African Arts, Artforum, Art in America, Arts d’Afrique Noire, Arts Tribal, Pelican Bomb, Contemporary Arts/Southeast, The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art, Folk Art, Folk Art Messenger, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Museum News, Ricochet, and NOMA’s Arts Quarterly. He was also an instrumental part in the establishment of the curatorial code of ethics for the American Association of Museums in 1976.
Fagaly has earned several awards and accolades during his tenure at NOMA. He was a recipient of a Fellowship for Museum Professionals from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. With this fellowship he traveled extensively for two months in West Africa visiting six countries studying traditional tribal art. In 1997, Fagaly received both the City of New Orleans Mayor’s Arts Award and the Louisiana Governor’s Arts Award of Outstanding Arts Patron. He also received the 1998 Charles E. Dunbar, Jr. Career Service Award for the Civil Service League and the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Fellows’ Isaac Delgado Memorial Award in 2001 for distinguished service to NOMA. He was decorated in 2006 by the French government with the Chevalier de l’Orde des Arts et des Lettres.
Fagaly is the founder of both the Friends of Contemporary Art and the Friends of Ethnographic Art at NOMA. He was a co-founder of the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans in 1976. In 1984, he served as Special Museum Consultant to both the Liberian and Vatican Pavilions for the Louisiana World Exposition.
He has also served on selection panels and as a grant reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States General Services Administration, the State Arts Councils of Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Wyoming, and the Southern Federation for Arts. He is the founding board member of United States Biennial, Inc. which produced Prospect.1, the first United States International Art Biennial in 2008 in New Orleans.
He continues to serve on that board which will produce Prospect.4 in the fall of 2017. Fagaly is also a board member of The Newcomb Art Museum and A Studio in the Woods both at Tulane University which he’ll continue to serve after his retirement.
About NOMA and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden
The New Orleans Museum of Art, founded in 1910 by Isaac Delgado, houses nearly 40,000 art objects encompassing 5,000 years of world art. Works from the permanent collection, along with continuously changing special exhibitions, are on view in the museum’s 46 galleries Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The adjoining Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features work by over 60 artists, including several of the 20th century’s master sculptors. The Sculpture Garden is open seven days a week: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The New Orleans Museum of Art and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden are fully accessible to handicapped visitors and wheelchairs are available from the front desk. For more information about NOMA, call (504) 658-4100 or visit www.noma.org. Wednesdays are free admission days for Louisiana residents, courtesy of The Helis Foundation. (May not include special exhibitions.) Teenagers (ages 13-19) receive free admission every day through the end of the year, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.