Thelma Golden

  • “Black Male” (1994–95)

    FOR ANY YOUNG CURATOR, putting together one’s first group exhibition is a complicated task. But when I became a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1991, the weight felt even greater because I sat with a lot of history: specifically, the history of the critique of museums in the late 1960s and early ’70s for institutional attitudes and exhibition making that excluded—or only very narrowly included—the work of black artists.

    At first, I thought a revision of that history could be an effective way to uncover and really begin to move on from it. At other moments,

  • Thelma Golden

    1 TA-NEHISI COATES, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (SPIEGEL & GRAU) Like many of us, I am trying—and often failing—to make sense of the ongoing racial violence against black Americans in this country. It feels personal and it feels political. The collective voices of the Black Lives Matter movement on the streets of New York, Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere have galvanized powerful statements of resistance and defiance. Against that backdrop and history is Coates’s singular, essential voice in the current dialogue. This volume is a grand achievement of reflection and recognition. Written

  • Thelma Golden

    THELMA GOLDEN

    While I usually think of summer as a chance to indulge in fiction, this year I’ll be reading Huey Copeland’s Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (University of Chicago Press). Copeland will look through a twenty-first-century lens at the legacy of slavery and will offer the first in-depth examination of how four groundbreaking artists—Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson—reimagine and represent the enslaved. His volume captures a moment of innovation spanning the late 1980s and early ’90s, unpacking the

  • Thelma Golden

    1 THE AUDIENCE AT “BASQUIAT” (BROOKLYN MUSEUM) I had an irrepressible desire to channel the enthusiasm of a Borscht Belt emcee as I walked through the Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective. The audience embodied all of the clichés inherent to any conversation about “attracting a wider cross section of the public.” Except that the “we are the world” crowd was real, not some marketing consultant’s demographic fantasy. The turnout for “Basquiat” was truly multigenerational, genuinely multicultural, and completely engaged. That is what made the museum feel so astoundingly alive.

    2 JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT,

  • Thelma Golden

    THELMA GOLDEN

    1 Dover Street Market (London) The recent frenzied spate of museum building has seen unfortunate comparisons made between these cultural institutions and shopping malls. But I love malls the way I love museums. Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market is rightly being described as the ultimate mall. Everything she thinks you should want is spread out over six floors. It is the most sublime, sensual shopping experience, carefully curated to include an Azzedine Alaia boutique, a dozen Comme lines, and Terry de Havilland shoes. Dover Street is not the perfect mall;

  • Thelma Golden

    THELMA GOLDEN

    1 The Blackout Because it was not tinged—predictions notwithstanding—with death, disaster, or even looting, the blackout of August 2003 offered New Yorkers the most profoundly moving experience of the year. Anxiety, exertion, exhaustion, heat, silence, suspense, and relief all converged to create a day, night, and day of sheer visceral response. In retrospect, it felt like what we often want (and are left wanting) from art and life. Forget all the feel-good news stories of nice neighbors and the “spirit” of the city. The blackout worked us. Like nothing in the art world

  • A PROJECT FOR ARTFORUM: KARA E. WALKER

    SOMEWHERE BEFORE THE MIDDLE of Toni Morrison’s epic novel Beloved you realize that this is a story you’ve never heard. Perhaps its horror and beauty have been hinted at, whispered, but it has remained the unspeakable heretofore unspoken. Then, about fifty pages later, you realize that perhaps this is a story that you don’t want to hear. But you have to.

    Kara Walker comes from the South, Atlanta actually, though by 1969, when she was born, the city had overcome, had become part of the New South. This is critical to the rest of the story, which, like the slave narratives Walker borrows from in her