Thelma Golden is the Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, USA. Golden joined the Museum as Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs in 2000 before succeeding Dr Lowery Stokes Sims, the Museum’s former Director and President, in 2005.
Early life and education
Thelma Golden grew up in Queens, New York. She had her first hands-on training as a senior in high school at the New Lincoln School, training as a curatorial apprentice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She graduated from Buckley Country Day School in 1980 and earned a BA in Art History and African-American Studies from Smith College in 1987.
Golden's first curatorial position was at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1987. She was then a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 1988 to 1998. She rose quickly through the ranks of the Whitney’s curatorial staff and organized many notable exhibitions, including the watershed 1993 Biennial, directed by Elisabeth Sussman; Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art (1994–95); Bob Thompson: A Retrospective (1998); Heart, Mind, Body, Soul: New Work from the Collection (1998); and Hindsight: Recent Work from the Permanent Collection (1999).
Known for her support and championship of emerging artists, Golden created a site-specific commissioning program for the Whitney’s branch museum at Altria (formerly Philip Morris), and presented projects there by artists such as Alison Saar, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons (artist), Romare Bearden, Matthew McCaslin, Suzanne McClelland, Lorna Simpson, Jacob Lawrence and Leone & MacDonald.
Since joining the Studio Museum in 2000, Golden has organized a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, 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 (2005–06, with Christine Y. Kim); Africa Comics (2006–07); and Kori Newkirk: 1997–2007 (2007–08). She also works to expand and strengthen the museum’s presence in the local community and the global art world.
Golden is an active guest curator, writer, lecturer, juror, and advisor. In 2008 she was a member of the advisory team of the Whitney Biennial and in 2007 acted as a juror for the UK Turner Prize. Golden co-curated the traveling exhibition Glenn Ligon: Some Changes in 2005 and in 2004 curated a retrospective of fashion designer Patrick Kelly at the Brooklyn Museum. Celebrated for her insightful interviews with contemporary artists, Golden is a frequent contributor to books, catalogues, and magazines and regularly speaks at institutions around the world as well as teaching at various universities. Golden serves on the Graduate Committee at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, is on the boards of Creative Time in New York and the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) in London, and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.
- 2003: honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, Moore College of Art and Design
- 2004: honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, Smith College
- 2008: honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, San Francisco Art Institute