PRINT December 2015

Thelma Golden

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton, 2015. Performance view, Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York, July 11, 2015. Center: Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs). Photo: Joan Marcus.

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 as a letter to the author’s fifteen-year-old son, Between the World and Me speaks to us all about the causes and effects of who we are right now.

2 FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA AT THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK RIBBON CUTTING (APRIL 30) “There are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, Well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. . . . You’re telling them that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen”: The first lady’s words precisely express what we should aspire to as we work to reimagine what museums can be.

3 THE 56TH VENICE BIENNALE: “ALL THE WORLD’S FUTURES” (VARIOUS VENUES; CURATED BY OKWUI ENWEZOR) “All the World’s Futures” made a profound statement about the present, positioning an extraordinary constellation of 136 artists from fifty-three countries not as a reflection of the world but as the world itself, with the artists as narrators of our condition. As Enwezor does brilliantly in each large group show he curates, he turned the axis and opened the lens on ideas and practices that root themselves in truth. For me, his exhibition also served as a glorious echo chamber of the artists and ideas that have inspired my work for the past twenty years—and a beacon of light from those who will continue to define my own curatorial aspirations.

4 SPRING IN LOS ANGELES I remember when my birthday fell on a Saturday as a kid: I couldn’t believe the good fortune of not one but two fantastic occurrences at once, which magnified the joy. (I think it happened the year that my present was tickets to a Jackson 5 concert at Madison Square Garden.) That’s how LA felt this past spring, with William Pope.L at the Geffen Contemporary at MoCA (in an exhibition curated by Bennett Simpson), Charles Gaines at Art + Practice Foundation (curated by Anne Ellegood and Jamillah James), and Noah Purifoy at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (curated by Franklin Sirmans and Yael Lipschutz)—a magnification of brilliance. Each of these exhibitions was a revelation on its own. But all three happening across the same stretch of time created a unique vortex of artistic power.

5 HAMILTON (RICHARD RODGERS THEATRE, NEW YORK) As a child of Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock! in the 1970s, an adolescent in Queens during the glorious early days of hip-hop, and a college student during the canon wars of the ’80s, I was convinced by Hamilton’s premise alone—the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton told through hip-hop and with a multicultural cast. But even more compelling is its author/creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genre-busting approach to culture, history, race, and identity, which radically shifts and reshapes so many paradigms at once and boldly reinvents the Broadway musical as a radical art form.

Charles Ray, Huck and Jim, 2014, pattern, 107 3/4 × 53 1/4 × 48 3/4".

6 CHARLES RAY, HUCK AND JIM (ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO) I’m still not sure what I think of Ray’s sculpture, presented in the survey of his work curated by James Rondeau and Bernhard Mendes Bürgi. And I think that’s okay, because I’m comfortable with the fact that sometimes it takes longer for me to know and understand something than is allowed in a culture that privileges instant or reactive critique. The work opens up a lot of questions for me, some of which I have been considering for my entire career. What I am sure of is that, standing in the gallery with Huck and Jim, I had one of my most transformative experiences viewing a work of art in a museum. I watched a guard respectfully enter into the most engaged and thoughtful conversations when asked inevitable questions by visitors about the provocative, nude representation of characters from Mark Twain’s novel. The guard sensed the profound space of dialogue created by this work, and she inhabited it again and again.

7 JOAN JONAS (US PAVILION, 56TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY PAUL C. HA AND UTE META BAUER) They Come to Us Without a Word filled the pavilion’s five galleries with video, sound, and sculpture, augmented by performance. In this beautiful and charged environment, Jonas meditated on nature, life, and death. It was a work that demanded repeated viewing, as it revealed itself more fully and in different ways each time. And through this immersion into her unique vocabulary, we got the chance to experience Jonas’s incredible, pioneering career and to see her newest thoughts at once.

8 LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE (SERPENTINE GALLERIES, LONDON; CURATED BY AMIRA GAD) It’s been a fantastic year for Yiadom-Boakye, as exemplified by this survey at the Serpentine of her masterful reimagined figuration. Her conviction regarding the potential of the figure and her commitment to mining the possibilities and complexities of realism make her among the most interesting artistic voices of her generation.

9 “THE FREEDOM PRINCIPLE: EXPERIMENTS IN ART AND MUSIC, 1965 TO NOW” (MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO; CURATED BY NAOMI BECKWITH AND DIETER ROELSTRAETE) Beckwith and Roelstraete rigorously reconsider and orient the origin stories of the avant-garde, charting new art histories through a dynamically curated group of artworks in conversation with a rich array of archival material and a powerful sound track. They position music’s particular role as a political and cultural force, grounded in Chicago in the 1960s but reverberating around the world.

10 D’ANGELO (APOLLO THEATER, NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 7) At 12:01 AM on December 15, 2014, I downloaded Black Messiah, after a wait that seemed longer than the fourteen years since D’Angelo’s tour de force Voodoo. But the real moment was on the evening of February 7, when the Black Messiah came to the cathedral of black music and—after the most stunning set and two encores—an ecstatic congregation said, “Amen.”

Director and chief curator of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem, Thelma Golden is the recipient of the 2016 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence.