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Thelma Golden

Museum director and curator Thelma Golden was born on September 22, 1965 in Queens, New York. In 1983, she graduated from the New Lincoln School, where she trained as a curatorial apprentice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in her senior year. In 1987, she earned her B.A. degree in art history and African American studies from Smith College.

Golden worked first as a curatorial intern at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1987, then as a curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988. From 1989 to 1991, she worked as the visual arts director for the Jamaica Arts Center in Queens, New York, where she curated eight shows. Golden was then appointed branch director of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Philip Morris branch in 1991 and curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996. While at the Whitney, she organized numerous groundbreaking exhibitions, including the 1993 Whitney Biennial and 1994’s Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. She also organized Bob Thompson: A Retrospective (1998), Heart, Mind, Body, Soul: New Work from the Collection (1998), and Hindsight: Recent Work from the Permanent Collection (1999). Golden also presented projects by artists Alison Saar, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons, Romare Bearden, Matthew McCaslin, Suzanne McClelland, Lorna Simpson, Jacob Lawrence, and Leone & MacDonald. She also worked as the special projects curator for contemporary art collectors Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton from 1998 to 2000. Golden returned to the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2000, where she was named deputy director for exhibitions and programs, and director and chief curator in 2005. Golden organized numerous exhibitions at the Studio Museum, including Isaac Julien: Vagabondia (2000); Martin Puryear: The Cane Project (2000); Glenn Ligon: Stranger (2001); Freestyle (2001); Black Romantic: The Figurative Impulse in Contemporary Art (2002); harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor (2004); Chris Ofili: Afro Muses (2005); Frequency (2005–2006); Africa Comics (2006–2007); and Kori Newkirk: 1997–2007 (2007–2008). Golden also lectured at several institutions, including Columbia University, Yale University, and the Royal College of Art in London. In addition, she contributed essays about Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Bill T. Jones, Kara Walker, and Glenn Ligon to various publications.

Golden received honorary degrees from Moore College of Art and Design, Smith College, and the San Francisco Art Institute. In 2008, she was a member of the advisory team of the Whitney Biennial; and in 2007, a juror for the UK Turner Prize. Golden served on the graduate committee for Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, and on the boards of Creative Time in New York and the Institute of International Visual Arts in London. In 2016, she was awarded the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence.

Golden is married to London fashion designer Duro Olowu.

Thelma Golden was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 9, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.006

Sex

Female

Interview Date

08/09/2016

Last Name

Golden

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Ann

Schools

Buckley Country Day School

New Lincoln School

Smith College

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Thelma

Birth City, State, Country

St. Albans, Queens

HM ID

GOL04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Fantastic

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/22/1965

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Mangoes

Short Description

Museum director and curator Thelma Golden (1965 - ) became the director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2005, having served as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the 1990s.

Employment

Studio Museum in Harlem

Whitney Museum of American Art - Phillip Morris Branch

Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton

Jamaica Arts Center

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Thelma Golden's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes her father's family background, pt. 3

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden talks about her father's parenting style

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden recalls how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Thelma Golden describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden describes her mother as a young adult

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden talks about the closeness of her mother's immediate family

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden describes her neighborhood in St. Albans in Queens, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden recalls the way in which she and her brother were raised

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden describes her mother's parenting style

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden remembers the relationship between her mother and paternal grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden describes her childhood personality

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Thelma Golden talks about the black Presbyterian Church

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden talks about her parents' social and political ideologies

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden describes her experiences at Buckley Country Day School in Roslyn, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden describes the Buckley Country Day School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden talks about her favorite subjects

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes the films 'Mahogany' and 'The Wiz'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden recalls her early interest in art history

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden describes the New Lincoln School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden talks about her exposure to the art world in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Thelma Golden describes her experiences at the New Lincoln School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden describes her decision to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden remembers her professor, Walter Morris-Hale, at Smith College

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden recalls her internship at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden describes her relationship with James Baldwin

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden talks about James Baldwin's influence in her life

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden recalls her summer retail jobs

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden describes her curatorial fellowship at the Studio Museum in Harlem, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden describes her curatorial fellowship at the Studio Museum in Harlem, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden remembers Harlem, New York in the 1980s and 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden recalls her interview at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden describes her role at the Whitney Museum of American Art, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes her role at the Whitney Museum of American Art, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden talks about the role of curators

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden recalls working with Kellie Jones at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden describes the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden remembers the artists exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden describes her relationship with Raymond J. McGuire

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden recalls working at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden recalls her role as associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes the retrospective exhibition of Bob Thompson's work

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden remembers the work of Lowery Stokes Sims

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden describes the ideas and influences of 'Black Male'

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden remembers the public response to her exhibition, 'Black Male'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden recalls her parents' reactions to 'Black Male,' pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden recalls her parents' reactions to 'Black Male,' pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden remembers her colleagues' support of 'Black Male'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden remembers the media's critique to 'Black Male'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden talks about the importance of the 'Black Male' exhibition

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden remembers her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden recalls working with Lowery Stokes Sims at the Studio Museum in Harlem, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden recalls working with Lowery Stokes Sims at the Studio Museum in Harlem, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden remembers the board members at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden talks about Lowery Stokes Sims' leadership at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes the 'Freestyle' exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden recalls meeting artist Mark Bradford

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden remembers her relationship with artist Glenn Ligon

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden describes her relationship with artist Lorna Simpson

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden talks about her working relationship with artists

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden describes the exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden talks about the space of the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden recalls her transition to director of the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes her role as director of the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden remembers her art mentors, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden remembers her art mentors, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden describes her fundraising responsibilities

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden talks about presence of the Studio Museum in Harlem in the community

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden reflects upon her accomplishments at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden talks about the proposed expansion to the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden talks about her goals for the Studio Museum in Harlem

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes the post-black art movement, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden describes the post-black art movement, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden reflects upon the art world during the 2016 Presidential Election

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden describes how she met her husband, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Thelma Golden describes how she met her husband, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden talks about her long-distance marriage, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden talks about her long-distance marriage, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden describes her husband's cultural background

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden talks about her fellowship at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden describes her work with the Obama Administration, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden describes her work with the Obama Administration, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden remembers attending President Barack Obama's state dinner

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Thelma Golden describes Peggy Cooper Cafritz

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Thelma Golden talks about her relationships with women in the art world

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden talks about her maternal figures

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Thelma Golden reflects upon the work of Maya Angelou

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Thelma Golden shares her goals for the future

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Thelma Golden describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Thelma Golden reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Thelma Golden narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Thelma Golden narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Thelma Golden narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$10

DAStory

1$7

DATitle
Thelma Golden describes her decision to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts
Thelma Golden reflects upon the art world during the 2016 Presidential Election
Transcript
--How did you end up choosing Smith [Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts]?$$I ended up at Smith because of Verne Oliver. When it came time to think about colleges, as head of school, we had a guidance counsellor, but as head of school, she also worked with the senior class, right, to ensure that every student was looking at the best range of possibilities for them. And I remember I did not necessarily have a distinct interest in women's colleges per se; I knew I wanted to go to a small school and it felt like the counsellor gave me the whole realm of some of the best small liberal arts schools on the East Coast, and so my sense of myself was, well, great; I'll apply to all of these schools. But I imagined that I would end up in a coed school, small coed liberal arts school. I knew I already wanted to major in art history, I knew I wanted to work in a museum, but I also saw college as something else besides just getting on my career track. I was excited about the possibility of leaving home and of meeting new friends, and so I just thought that college experience would be like the experience that I'd seen on TV. And Verne, in a way, Verne was very direct and stern about things. She said to me, "You are going to apply to several women's colleges." And I said, "Why?" And she says, "Because that's how the world is, and I want you to go to a women's," (background noise) sorry. I'll start that over. I, Verne was very adamant that I look at women's colleges and, you know, Verne Oliver was an educator who believed also in education; like she believed that education is what made us who we are, and believed deeply in college as not just a conveyor belt to career, but to, again, this ability to deeply dive into an academic study that one could have with them, right, their whole life, no matter what they did. And so Verne was the one who said, "You are gonna apply to women's colleges." And I remember Verne giving me the most sophisticated analysis of gender and race politics in America as she saw it, and end of that lecture ended up that she felt a woman's college would give me things that I would not get anywhere else, that she felt would be critical to my ability to actualize a life full of possibility and opportunity. And I believed her in a way, and so applied; in the end decided not to go to Smith, and sent a deposit to a coed liberal arts school that I won't name, that I went to visit, and when I was visiting this coed liberal arts, very good school that had a, a student body all proud to go there, I met a young man at that school who, so proud of his school and so, did, believed deeply, right, in its pull, said to me, "Oh, my girlfriend goes to Smith; you should meet her." And so in the weekend, it was that discovery weekend that, where after you decide where you're going you go up there, I met this young woman, and she was amazing. I mean I had never met a woman my age who had as much determination, as much focus, as much poise, I mean the first thing when I saw her, I thought, my mother [Thelma Eastmond Golden] would love her. While everyone else was at this college party, kind of, you know, in whatever they were in, she commanded space in the room, and she very calmly kind of said to me, "You know, it's great you're here; this is a great school, but did you apply to Smith?" And I said, "Yes, and I got in." I said, "But you know, I just don't know, a single sex school; I, you know, maybe I should go to a coed school." And she says, "I think you're wrong." And she gave me her phone number; she said, "Call me, let's talk," you know, "when you get home." Well, by the time I get home, and this is how the world is, it turned out her father was a very well known elected official in New York State who, when she said, "You know, I met this young woman, this is her name." He said, "Oh, that must be," again, "Artie Golden's [Arthur Golden, Sr.] daughter." And he called my dad, and she and I had spoken, and at that point my parents called Smith and said, "Listen," you know, "she made this decision, she'd like to perhaps change her decision." It was still within the timing, so I wasn't out of time, but it was more that it felt like we were done. And Smith, of course, said, "Of course you can come." And the only thing that happened is we lost the deposit for the first school. And years later, that school invited me to do a lecture and they paid me a very generous honorarium, and I was so proud of that and I told my father, and about a week later he said, "Okay, you know whose money that is." He goes, "That's my deposit with interest," you know, twenty years later (laughter). But, I then knew, I knew Smith was right. I knew it was right; I knew when I visited, but I just had a little bit of anxiety about what I imagined I wanted. It's the thing I tell now young women who are looking at Smith, that that anxiety, in the course of one's life, is so small compared to all you gain in these four years in an environment that is truly invested in you. And what it means to be in an environment with all these young women, your peers, who have an equal sense of themself was inspiring every single day. That's how it felt to be at Smith, it was inspiring every day. So that's how I got to Smith. Verne was thrilled. I mean this was sort of her choice, and I'd applied to several other women's colleges. My parents were thrilled because it was a decision they thought I was happy with, and I went off to Smith and spent four amazing years there.$What do you think about your, the concept in the days, 'cause I think really, a lot of us are fearful of the times, well, I don't know, amazed and sort of fearful of what hap- you know, what, you know, between, I'm talking about, I don't even wanna talk about him, but between Trump [President Donald John Trump] and, you know, what is sort of--$$Yeah.$$--fermenting in society right now, and, and so I was wondering what your thoughts are, or do you see beyond that.$$Well, I have always felt that I see the world through art; I see the world through art in amazing moments in the world, but I also see the world through art in hard, complicated moments. So I, right now, am deeply engaged in the work that's being made, for example, photographically, by young photographers and photojournalists who are on the front lines of the protests going on all over this country, right, in the face of all the violence that's happening, the racial violence and the violence that's happening because of the racial violence. I understand what I understand about some of that through their eyes, and through the way in which they are documenting and then capturing it, some of them not even with the idea that it's art with a big A, but it is art to me, and I'm intrigued. I know that's what will be the record of what people who will know about this moment, this complicated, awful moment, will know about it a hundred years from now; it's gonna come, right, in that work. And as a curator, I actually have the added responsibility, in some cases, of collecting that work to make sure that somebody has the opportunity to see it. So, right now, I look at what's going on by looking at the ways in which artists are responding. It always isn't direct, however. Do you know what I, like it isn't always direct; there aren't always direct manifestations in the very moment by artists; that, that's not what I mean to say, what I mean to say, however, is that art reacts to the world it's in; art reacts to the world it's in, so being someone in the world of art means that I have a way to understand some of the complexity of what's happening in the world.