The American Academy of Arts and Lettershas announced the recipients of its highest honors for excellence in the arts, to be presented at its annual ceremony in May. Toni Morrison will be awarded the Gold Medal for Fiction. The Gold Medal is awarded to those who have achieved eminence in an entire body of work.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members included Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.
Thelma Golden, former curator at the Whitney Museum and current director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, has been picked by President Barack Obama to join the board of the Obama Foundation. Her role will be to plan the presidential library at the Barack Obama Presidential Center in the South Side of Chicago, a museum and library for Obama’s life, presidency, and legacy.
Other new members of the board include John Doerr, a venture capitalist who was on Obama’s USA Economic Recovery Advisory Board and Julianna Smoot, the former White House Social Secretary and Deputy Assistant to the President. Both Smoot and Doerr have played vital roles in fundraising for Obama, reports the Observer.
During Golden’s 15-year tenure at The Studio Museum (she has been the director for the past 10 years) the museum has seen immense visitor growth and international acclaim. She will also oversee a $122 million expansion. Golden is lauded for organizing pioneering exhibitions of African-American artists, raising profiles of important artists such as Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Chris Ofili, and turning the museum into a cultural focal point in Harlem.
“I am very much looking forward to joining the Board of Directors, and working to make the Obama Presidential Center a hub for creative expression through the arts,” Golden said in a statement on the foundation’s website. “The South Side of Chicago has historically been the nexus of several important cultural movements for African-Americans, and I believe the new Center will help usher in a new era of community engagement for this extraordinary neighborhood.”
According to the website, the Foundation “will inspire the next generation of young leaders all over the world. It will convene the brightest minds with the newest ideas from across the political spectrum, and draw strength from the rich diversity and vitality of Chicago, the city it calls home.”
If Thelma Golden didn’t exist, you would want to invent her. As director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, Golden brings her unique passion, commitment, style and laser-focus to every project she touches.
Being so good at what one does almost always stems from true love, and Golden has always been smitten with art. “When I was about 10 years old, a family friend gave my brother and I the board game Masterpiece, which involved figuring out who had stolen a great work of art,” the Queens-born Golden told theGrio. “The game included cards that represented the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, and those deeply engaged me in the idea of a museum.”
However, it was her elementary teacher, Lucille Buck, who really brought her into the study of art history. “Mrs. Buck was an art aficionado and felt strongly that we should not only visit museums, but also learn about the art, artists and artworks we were going to see before our visits. She began my lifelong love of learning about art.”
Golden takes the art world by storm
Armed with a B.A. in Art History and African-American Studies from Smith College, Golden actually started her career at the Studio Museum in 1987, prior to joining the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988. She spent ten years at the Whitney. Her first big exhibition as curator was the 1993 Whitney Biennial (always a provocative seasonal show), but she really made her mark in 1994 when she organized the controversial exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art.
The show ruffled the feathers of black and white viewers — and critics — alike, but opened up new dialogues. Golden says that in many ways, it was her dream show. “By having been fortunate enough to do that so early on in my career, it has really freed me to be truly curatorially curious. I had the great advantage to make an exhibition so wholly influential to my thinking and the ideas that I was engaged with that it has let me, in the intervening twenty years, follow my mind and my heart around the art and artists that I love.”