Thelma Golden Receives the Gish Prize 2023

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Thelma Golden, the distinguished Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, has been awarded the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for 2023. This remarkable honor recognizes individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the enrichment of the world’s beauty and the betterment of mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.

The Gish Prize, established in 1994 through the testament of legendary American actress and filmmaker Lillian Gish, is renowned for its recognition of outstanding individuals across various fields. Thelma Golden now joins the ranks of previous laureates such as Frank Gehry, Spike Lee, Bob Dylan, Maya Lin, and Shirin Neshat.

This year’s selection committee, chaired by Sade Lythcott, Executive Director of the National Black Theatre, had the arduous task of choosing the recipient of the 30th Gish Prize. The committee, which also included Laura Aden, President & CEO of the Howard Gilman Foundation; Anna Glass, Executive Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem; Terrance McKnight, Host at WQXR, New York Public Radio; and Adam D. Weinberg, Director Emeritus of the Whitney Museum of Art, ultimately decided to honor Thelma Golden for her exceptional contributions to the world of art.

Thelma Golden’s illustrious career began in New York City, where she embarked on an apprenticeship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during her high school years. Her passion for art led her to The Studio Museum, where she worked as an intern and later as a curatorial fellow after earning a degree in art history and African American studies from Smith College.

Golden’s journey through the art world continued as she assumed various roles, including a curator assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988. Her remarkable work there culminated in her role as the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris and her appointment as an associate curator in 1993. Notable among her achievements during her tenure were her organization of the groundbreaking 1993 Whitney Biennial and the iconic exhibition titled “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in American Art” in 1994.

In 2000, Thelma Golden returned to The Studio Museum as the Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs. In 2005, she assumed the position of Director and Chief Curator, succeeding Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims. Under her visionary leadership, The Studio Museum has flourished as a global leader in contemporary art exhibitions, an innovative educational center, and a cultural cornerstone in the Harlem community.

Golden’s curation at The Studio Museum has showcased a wide array of exhibitions, including the groundbreaking “Freestyle” in 2001, which highlighted emerging Black artists. Other notable exhibitions under her guidance include “Chris Ofili: Afro Muses 1995–2005” and “Black Romantic: The Figurative in Contemporary African-American Art.”

In addition to her museum work, Thelma Golden initiated a multi-year collaboration between The Studio Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, ensuring continued community engagement during The Studio Museum’s transition to a new facility. Her commitment to advancing the museum’s global impact and its integral place within the Harlem community is exemplified by the construction of the museum’s first-ever purpose-built facility.

Thelma Golden’s contributions to the art world have been recognized with numerous awards and honors. She holds a B.A. from Smith College and has received honorary doctorates from prestigious institutions such as the New School, Columbia University, and Barnard College, among others. Her excellence in curatorial work was acknowledged with the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in 2010 and the J. Paul Getty Medal in 2018.

Golden’s remarkable career extends beyond her work at The Studio Museum, as she has served on numerous boards of directors and advisory committees, including the Barack Obama Foundation and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She is a prominent authority on Black art and an active lecturer and panelist, contributing to discussions on contemporary art and culture at national and international institutions.

Upon receiving the Gish Prize, Thelma Golden expressed her surprise and humility, stating, “I’m usually on the other side of this, someone who nominates artists for awards. It feels very strange to be on the opposite side.”

Thelma Golden’s contributions to the world of art, her dedication to empowering Black artists, and her commitment to the Harlem community make her a deserving recipient of the Gish Prize, an award that celebrates individuals who enrich the world through their work, making it more beautiful and profound for all of humanity.

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