Thelma Golden is the Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, United States. 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. She is noted as one of the originators of the term Post-Blackness.
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. Golden's decision to become a curator was inspired by Lowery Stokes Sims, the first African-American curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[ She graduated from Buckley Country Day School in 1980 and earned a B.A. in Art History and African-American Studies from Smith College in 1987. Golden helped put several exhibitions together at the Smith College Museum of Art as a student, including one called "Dorothy C. Miller: With an Eye to American Art", which chronicled the groundbreaking contributions of her signature ‘Americans’ exhibitions. While at Smith, she worked as an intern at The Studio Museum in 1985.
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. Golden was the visual arts director at the Jamaica Arts Center in Queens before she became director of the Whitney Museum's outpost in midtown Manhattan (since closed) in 1991. She organized many notable exhibitions, including the controversial 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 she presented projects by meaningful artists: Alison Saar, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons (artist), Romare Bearden, Matthew McCaslin, Suzanne McClelland, Lorna Simpson, Jacob Lawrence, and Leone & MacDonald.
Golden was the Special Projects Curator for contemporary art collectors Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton from 1998 to 2000.
Since joining the Studio Museum in 2000 as deputy director for exhibitions, Golden has organized 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). In 2005 she became the Studio Museum's director and chief curator. She also works to expand and strengthen the museum's presence in the local community and the global art world. The Studio Museum's visitorship has increased during her tenure as director, and a $122 million expansion is underway. Designed by Adjaye Associates and Cooper Robertson, it will be the museum's first purpose-built expansion.