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Thelma Golden reflects on curatorial experience

Courtney Martin talks with curator of Studio Museum in Harlem about diverse art career

Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, spoke on her curatorial career in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts’ Martinos Auditorium Wednesday.  The 90-minute talk took the form of a conversation with Courtney Martin, deputy director and chief curator of the Dia Art Foundation and assistant professor of history of art and architecture at the University. Open to the public, the talk gave audience members insight into Golden’s professional journey, as well as the historical events and issues that have shaped her socially conscious practice, which is especially inspired by the work of many black artists, she said.

The two curators guided the audience through Golden’s multifarious career working at some of New York’s most prominent and innovative museums. Golden detailed her progression, which began with a high school internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a curatorial position at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2005, Golden assumed her current position at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Golden and Martin discussed some of the most revolutionary and influential shows that Golden had curated, including the Biennial Exhibition in 1993 and “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art” in 1994 — both shown at the Whitney.

A slideshow projected above the stage accompanied the conversation, which included photos of the diverse and powerful selections of artwork that Golden had curated. Recalling the most enduring work she remembered from the 1993 Biennial, Golden described a piece created by Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Daniel Joseph Martinez: Whitney admission buttons that read “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be white.”

Also memorable for Golden was the exhibition catalogue she curated to accompany “Black Male,” which featured the works of prominent authors such as bell hooks and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America Tricia Rose MA’87 PhD’93. The pair’s conversation ended with a question-and-answer session with the audience, in which Golden spoke of her plans to open a new Studio Museum in Harlem in 2021.

“Museums are important sites for the critical conversations we need to have in our culture and I welcome that opportunity,” Golden said. “When everyone talks about the moment we’re in, I value that artists are looking and listening. … I know the results of (their craft) will be … incredibly powerful.”

“(Golden is) very put together, you could tell by the way she answered questions that she knows what she does,” said Margaret Hu ’18, a former Herald opinions editor. “She’s a superstar in the art world.”

The talk will be followed by a workshop conducted by Golden Thursday, in which she will host more conversations with students in the arts and humanities about her career.

The Brown Arts Initiative presented the talk as the third installment of its Warren and Allison Kanders Lecture Series, which aims to bring art world visionaries and progressive contemporary artists to  campus, said Anne Bergeron, managing director of the BAI. “Thelma was one of the first (curators) to think about (the relationship between the art and the viewer) in a very masterful way and, in so doing, created community.”

The last installment of the lecture series, a talk with artist Wangechi Mutu, will happen March 14.


Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that Courtney Martin is a former assistant professor of art history. In fact, Courtney Martin is currently on leave from the University as an assistant professor of history of art and architecture. An earlier version of this article also stated that Thelma Golden assumed her current position as director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in 2000. In fact, Thelma Golden came to the Studio Museum in 2000 as deputy director and became director in 2005. The Herald regrets the errors.

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