Curator of the Week: Thelma Golden


Thelma Golden, image by Crain’s New York

I’m constantly making exhibitions in my head.


Thelma Golden is the Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, founded just three years after her birth by a group of activists and philanthropists. The Studio Museum is where she began her career interning while attending Smith College. Ms. Golden was also a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 1988 to 1998.


With an ethnocentric focus, Golden has developed the Studio Museum’s presence in the art world at home and abroad, especially in recent years as its visibility has increased through social media. She is an active guest curator, writer, lecturer, juror, and advisor, serving on the Graduate Committee at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and on the boards of Creative Time in New York and the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) in London. Golden is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and has received numerous accolades, including multiple honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts. In 2014, she was named one of the top 25 most important women in the art world by Artnet, and in 2015 became a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow. She also won the 2016 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence. To put it mildly, Golden is an omnipresent, beloved force.

Known for

At the Whitney, Golden helped organize the racially charged 1993 Biennial and Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art (1994–95), both of which proved contentious within and outside of the established artistic community. With a reputation for nurturing emerging talent, Golden joined the Studio Museum once again in 2000, where according to Wikapedia she pioneered “a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, including Isaac Julien: Vagabondia (2000), Martin Puryear: The Cane Project (2000); Glenn Ligon: Stranger (2001); the Freestyle Exhibition (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).”

Fun Fact

Golden is married to acclaimed fashion designer, Duro Olowu. Read about their relationship here.

Latest Efforts

Recently, Golden has been advising teen girls on School of Doodle, an online education platform, in addition to mentoring her heir apparent, Kimberly Drew, former Studio Museum employee and now Social Media Manager at the Met, better known by her virtual handle, @museummammy. Guided by Golden, Drew has been receiving a lot of press, especially for her tumblr, black contemporary art. But in terms of her own endeavors, Golden is also frequently in the spotlight as the Studio Museum’s name-recognition and target audience has expanded. And she is well on her way to tackling what the WSJ calls Golden’s “biggest challenge yet,” constructing a new $122 million home on West 125th Street for her institution. Prominent Ghanian-British architect, David Adjaye, who devised The National Museum of African American History and Culture along with several others, will lead the project.

Check Out

Golden’s TED Talk (2009) on “How Art Gives Shape to Cultural Change”:


Welcome to the inaugural post of a new MolaPola series, Curator of the Week. Every seven days you’ll find a spotlight on a contemporary curator engaging the art world. Stay tuned in the next few weeks as I’ll be talking about Israeli-Canadian Chen Tamir (who frequently writes about government censorship of artists in Israel and the intersection of art with BDS) and Serpentine Galleries’ Hans Ulrich Obrist, who has acquired celebrity over his 25 years in the business.

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