PRINT December 2003

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 has in a long, long time.

2 David Hammons (Ace Gallery, New York) When the announcement arrived, it was clear this show could be everything or nothing. Everything being the mega-retrospective we’ve been praying for over the decade-plus since “Rousing the Rubble.” Or nothing as in nothing. Nada. Hammons, being the master of extremes, of course made it both. In the dark, we moved around with our blue lights, looking for what we were supposed to look at, unable to find it. Just able to feel it—Hammons’s grand, sublime gesture. We still feel it. And we remain grateful.

3 David Adjaye, The Dirty House London-based architect David Adjaye is known in the art world for his collaborations with artists (his red, black, and green kaleidoscope skylight atop Chris Ofili’s British pavilion was one of the best things in Venice) and for the homes he has designed for artists. Completed late last year for Tim Noble and Sue Webster, the Dirty House—a converted turn-of-the-century timber factory in East London—is pure Adjaye. From the master of fusing outer skin and inner soul comes an unassuming facade graced with a hovering white roof that just hints at the luxurious, functional, beautifully bespoke spaces within.

4 Curators of the Year This year we lost two of the greats: Dorothy Miller, my first curatorial role model, and Kirk Varnedoe, who was and remains an exemplar to us all. I am thankful, too, to Elisabeth Sussman, for her brilliant Eva Hesse and Diane Arbus retrospectives, and to Nancy Spector, for her Matthew Barney tour de force.

5 Dia:Beacon Opening Reception Growing up in southeast Queens, there were no openings or receptions. Dinner dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs, fund-raisers, retirement parties—they were all called “affairs.” We all agree that Dia:Beacon is a phenomenal achievement. Here’s my vote for the opening. From the train procession up the Hudson to the leisurely cocktails in the sunny Robert Irwin garden to the magnificent dinner in that gorgeous, vast hall—for those moments, the art world felt like an actual community. As my mother would say, with equal parts pretentious Francophilia and South Shore twang, “Oh, what a wonderful affair.”

6 Like a Virgin With a nod to the revirgination movement sweeping contemporary evangelical Christianity, here’s praise for several midcareer artists whose shows made me feel the way I felt when I saw their work for the very first time: Janine Antoni at Luhring Augustine, Isaac Julien at the Bohen Foundation, Donald Moffett at Marianne Boesky, Zoe Leonard at Paula Cooper, Do-Ho Suh at Lehmann Maupin (all in New York), and Doug Aitken at the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia. And seeing the work of newcomers Dario Robleto and Kori Newkirk (at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria and The Project, respectively) suggested that in ten years I might be revirginized all over again.

7 Making the Band 2 (MTV) Gary Simmons told me there’s been no significant hip-hop made in the past five years. MTB2, MTV’s hip-hop talent search hosted by P. Diddy, says he’s right. These contestants don’t want to be rappers, they want to be famous. And because they’re on MTB2, they are famous, so they no longer have to be talented. PD keeps telling them, “We’re makin’ history, baby!” And they buy it. And this makes for great TV.

8 Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Random Family (Scribner) Subtitled “Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx,” LeBlanc’s epic volume is a stunning account of two young women and the failing schools, unplanned pregnancies, homelessness, baby mamas, correctional facilities, drugs, and welfare-to-work that make up their lives. Forget thinking that any of these issues can even begin to be addressed by an artwork or a benefit. Here is the crazy, unbelievable, sad story of our world right now, written so beautifully it would be easy to mistake for a novel. LeBlanc, with quiet force, relentlessly reminds you it’s not.

9 “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) I almost didn’t go see it, in which case I would now be doing a Jayson Blair, but because I knew I’d want to rant about it, I went. As I suspected, it was a “love the message/hate the messenger,” or more aptly, “love the quilts/hate the exhibition,” kind of thing. Of course I loved the quilts. We all know the quilts are brilliant and beautiful. (I just wish the quilters were making a little more money for all their brilliance!) I like the old black ladies. My mother is an old black lady. I hope to become an old black lady. I just hated the exhibition, which, with its shockingly politically correct tone, under the transparent cover of high/low intervention and demolished media categories, was the most culturally repugnant, retrograde moment I have experienced, perhaps in my entire professional life. It reminded me of reading Huck Finn in seventh grade at my all-white private school. I didn’t hate Huck Finn, I just hated having to talk about it with everyone else as they had their racial revelatory moment. Then again, I suppose in one way I did love the exhibition—it was an exercise so obvious, so over-the-top, that perhaps it will serve as a warning and never be repeated.

10 Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, The Phantom Project (The Kitchen, New York) So many of our collective cultural references are to things we’ve never seen. So it was thrilling to see the film, video, and photographs of seminal early works—many of them known only by reputation—presented at this twentieth-anniversary performance. Unlike a retrospective of paintings, Jones observed, this live/archival hybrid, in which today’s dancers performed with yesterday’s ghosts, made the past new and the present come alive.

Thelma Golden is deputy director for exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she is currently organizing “HarlemWorld: Metropolis as Metaphor,” which opens next month.