Thelma Golden Wins Gish Prize 2023

The 30th Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize goes to Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Thelma Golden.Photo: Julie Skarratt. Courtesy of LACMA.

Thelma Golden.Photo: Julie Skarratt. Courtesy of LACMA.

Established in 1994 through the will of Lillian Gish, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to an individual who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” In 2023, the selection committee awarded the director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem Thelma Golden with the highly acclaimed prize.

Charlotte Eyerman, Managing Director of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, which oversees the prize trust, said, ‘In choosing Thelma Golden, this year’s committee recognises a leader who has empowered hundreds of vital Black artists and advanced the careers of countless outstanding Black arts professionals.’

Born and raised in New York City, Thelma Golden began her impressive career as an apprentice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while still in high school. She began working at The Studio Museum while an undergraduate student of art history and African American studies at Smith College—first as an intern, then as a curatorial fellow after her graduation.

Golden said that it was a “total surprise” when the selection committee told her, she had won. “I’m usually on the other side of this, someone who nominates artists for awards,” she said. “It feels very strange to be on the opposite side.” The prize is endowed with $250.000.

In 1988, Golden joined the Whitney Museum of American Art as a curator assistant. After a brief leave to work for art historian and curator Dr. Kellie Jones as the Visual Arts Director at the Jamaica Arts Center, Golden returned to the Whitney as the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris and was appointed associate curator in 1993. In her curatorial positions there, she organized numerous innovative exhibitions, including the groundbreaking 1993 Whitney Biennial and a landmark exhibition titled Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in American Art in 1994.

In 2000, Golden returned to The Studio Museum as the deputy director for exhibitions and programs and was named the director and chief curator in 2005, succeeding Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims. Under Golden’s leadership, the museum has gained increased renown as a global leader in the exhibition of contemporary art, a center for innovative education, and a cultural anchor in the Harlem community. Golden’s curation at The Studio Museum includes a multitude of exhibitions, including the inauguration of a five-part series that began with Freestyle in 2001, which highlighted emerging black artists. Other exhibitions include Chris Ofili: Afro Muses 1995–2005 and Black Romantic: The Figurative in Contemporary African-American Art.
Recently, Golden kicked off a multi-year collaborative partnership between The Studio Museum and the Museum of Modern Art as a way to maintain presence and community engagement while The Studio Museum ushers in a new era. Now in her 18th year as director, Golden spearheaded the construction of the first-ever purpose-built facility in The Studio Museum’s 50-five-year history. This monumental building project demonstrates Golden’s commitment to advancing both the museum’s global future and firm place within the Harlem community.

Golden holds a B.A. from Smith College. She has received honorary doctorates from the New School (2022), Columbia University (2018), Barnard College (2010), the City College of New York (2009), San Francisco Art Institute (2008), and Smith College (2004). She received 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 has also been the recipient of various fellowships and was named a Henry Crown Fellow in 2008 and a Ford Foundation Fellow in 2015. President Barack Obama appointed her to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, on which she served from 2010 to 2016. Golden currently serves on the board of directors for the Barack Obama Foundation, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. She is also a member of the advisory committee for the Goldman Sachs “One Million Black Women” initiative and the Advisory Board for the Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums. Recently, she served on the International Jury for the Venice Architecture Biennale (2023). Golden is a recognized authority on Black art and an active lecturer and panelist who speaks about contemporary art and culture at national and international institutions.

The selection committee for the 30th Gish Prize was chaired by Sade Lythcott, Executive Director, National Black Theatre, and included Laura Aden, President & CEO, Howard Gilman Foundation; Anna Glass, Executive Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Terrance McKnight, Host at WQXR, New York Public Radio; and Adam D. Weinberg, Director Emeritus, Whitney Museum of Art.



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