How art gives shape to cultural change – Thelma Golden

How art gives shape to cultural change – Thelma Golden

the brilliant playwright Audrey and Kennedy wrote a volume called people who have led my plays and if I were to write a volume it would be called artists who have led my exhibitions because my work in understanding art and an understanding culture has come by following artists by looking at what artists mean and what they do and who they are JJ from good times significant to many people of course because of dynomite but perhaps more significant as the first really black artists on primetime TV jean-michel Basquiat important to me because the first black artists in real time that showed me the possibility of who and what I was about to enter into my overall project is about art specifically about black artists very generally about the way in which art can change the way we think about culture and ourselves my interest is an artists who understand and rewrite history who think about themselves within the narrative of the larger world of art but who have created new places for us to see and understand I’m showing two artists here Glenn Ligon and Carol Walker two of many who really formed for me the essential questions that I wanted to bring as a curator to the world I was interested in the idea of why and how I could create a new story a new narrative in art history and a new narrative in the world and to do this I knew that I had to see the way in which artists work understand the artists studio as laboratory imagine then reinventing the museum as a think tank and looking at the exhibition as the ultimate white paper asking questions providing the space to look and to think about answers in 1994 when I was a curator at the Whitney Museum I made an exhibition called black male it looked at the intersection of race and gender in contemporary American art it sought to express the ways in which art could provide a space for a dialogue complicated dialogue dialogue with many many points of entry and how the museum could be the space for this contest of ideas this exhibition included over 20 artists of various ages and races but all looking at black masculinity from a very particular point of view what was significant about this exhibition is the way in which it engaged me in my role as a curator as a catalyst for this dialogue one of the things that happened very distinctly in the course of this exhibition is I was confronted with the idea of how powerful images can be in people’s understanding of themselves in each other I’m showing you two works one on the right by Leon Golub one on the left by Robert Cole Scott and in the course of the exhibition which was contentious controversial and ultimately for me life-changing in my sense of what art could be a woman came up to me on the gallery floor to express her concern about the nature of how powerful images could be and how we understood each other and she pointed to the work on the left – tell me how problematic this image was as it related for her to the idea of how black people had been represented and she pointed to the image on the right as an example to me of the kind of dignity that needed to be portrayed to work against those images in the media she then assigned these works racial identities basically saying to me that the work on the right clearly was made by black artists the work on the left clearly by a white artist when in effect that was the opposite case Bob Cole Scott african-american artist Leon goal of a white artist the point of that for me was to say in that space in that moment that I really more than anything wanted to understand how images could work how images did work and how artists provided a space bigger than one that we could imagine in our day-to-day lives to work through these images fast-forward and I end up in Harlem home for many of black America very much the psychic heart of the black experience really the place where the Harlem Renaissance existed Harlem now sort of explaining and thinking of itself in this part of the century looking both backwards and forwards I always say Harlem is an interesting community because unlike many other places it thinks of itself in the past present and the future simultaneously no one speaks of it just in the now it’s always what it was and what it can be and in thinking about that than my second project the second question I asked is can a museum via catalyst in a community can a museum house artists and allow them to be change agents as communities rethink themselves this is Harlem actually on January 20th thinking about itself in a very wonderful way so I work now at the Studio Museum in Harlem thinking about exhibitions they’re thinking about what it means to discover arts possibility now what does this mean to some of you in some cases I know that many of you are involved in cross-cultural dialogues you’re involved in ideas of creativity and innovation think about the place that artists can play in that that is the kind of incubation and advocacy that I work towards in working with young black artists think about artists not as content providers though they can brilliant at that but again as real catalyst the studio museum was founded in the late 60s and I bring this up because it’s important to locate this practice in history to look at 1968 in the incredible historic moment that is and think of the arc that has happened since then to think of the possibilities that we are all privileged to stand in today and imagine that this museum that came out of a moment of great protest and one that was so much about examining the history and the legacy of important african-american artists to the history of art in this country like Jacob Florence Norman Lewis Vermeer Bearden and then of course to bring us to today in 1975 Muhammad Ali gave a lecture at Harvard University after his lecture the student got up and said to him give us a poem and Muhammad Ali said me we a profound statement about the individual and the community the space in which now in my project of discovery of thinking about artists of trying to define what might be black art cultural movement of the 21st century what that might mean for cultural movements all over this moment the me we seems incredibly prescient totally important to this end the specific project that has made this possible for me is a series of exhibitions all titled with an F freestyle frequency and flow which have set out to discover and define the young black artists working in this moment who I feel strongly will continue to work over the next many years this series of exhibitions was made specifically to try and question the idea of what it would mean now at this point in history to see art as a catalyst what it means now at this point in history as we define and redefine culture black culture specifically in my case but culture generally I name this group of artists around an idea which I put out there called post black really meant to define them as artists who came and start their work now looking back at history but start in this moment historically it is really in this sense of discovery that I have a new set of questions that I’m asking this new set of questions is what does it mean right now to be african-american in America what can artwork say about this where can a museum exist as the place for us all to have this conversation really most exciting about this is thinking about the energy and the excitement that young artists can bring their works for me are about not always just simply about the aesthetic innovation that their minds imagined that their visions create and put out there in the world but more perhaps importantly through the excitement of the community that they create as important voices that would allow us right now to understand our situation as well as in the future I am continually amazed by the way in which the subject of race can take itself in many places that we don’t imagine it should be I am always amazed by the way in which artists are willing to do that in their work it is why I look to art it’s why I ask questions of art it is why I make exhibitions now this exhibition as I said 40 young artists done over a course of eight years and for me it’s about considering the implications if considering the implications of this generation has to say to the rest of us it’s considering what it means for these artists to be both out in the world as their work travels but in their communities as people who are seeing and thinking about the issues that face us it’s also about thinking about the creative spirit and nurturing it and imagining particularly in urban America about the nurturing of the spirit now where perhaps does this end up right now for me it is about reimagining this cultural discourse in an international context so the last iteration of this project has been called flow with the idea now of creating a EAL network of artists around the world really looking not so much from harlem and out but looking across and flow looked at artists all born on the continent of africa and as many of us think about that continent and think about what it means to us all in 21st century I have begun that looking through artists through artworks and imagining what they can tell us about the future what they tell us about our future and what they create in their sense of offering us this great possibility of watching that continent emerge as part of our bigger dialogue so what do I discover when I look at artworks what do I think about when I think about art I feel like the privilege I’ve had as a curator is not just the discovery of new works the discovery of exciting works but really it has been what I’ve discovered about myself and what I can offer in the space of an exhibition to talk about beauty to talk about power to talk about ourselves and to talk and speak to each other that’s what makes me get up every day and want to think about this generation of black artists and artists around the world thank you you


  1. Their voice is so perfect sounding, it almost doesn't look like it comes from them!!
    Though I never understood why people have to split things up into "black" this or "hispanic" that (especially since if there was a "white" catigory it would be 'racist' to most people), they didn't do that bad of a job.

  2. I just feel like there is no need to look at race as something to should be split, no one deserves more attention then the next. We are all living beings and should try and cherish each other as equals. Just my opinion though.

  3. I gotta agree somewhat. Its good to look at eachother as equals, but this isn't really about race. More about the culture and how its displayed. Either way I am neutral to this talk. Rather uninteresting.

  4. I think a lot of people commenting are too blinded by the fact that she's talking about black art and black artists to realize that that is the purpose of the video. She's using black art as the example on how culture changes. And don't treat it as if different races have the same culture, because they don't. It's not racist, it's fact. She is simply exploring the progression of black culture through art. You could easily do the same thing about whites, indians, chinese, japanese, etc.

  5. Then you would probably be studying European art from the 1500s onwards. Oh look, race can be used to talk about culture. Gasp.

  6. i disliked because i think its the other way around. How cultural change shapes the art created instead of vice versa, art just reflects the sentiments

  7. i think its the other way around. cultural change shapes the art created instead of vice versa, art just reflects the sentiments

  8. Remember the parable of the nightmare child, raised in a dream world gone wrong, he refused to except the culture of anything that came before him, the mask he wore was his, not african, the sword he weilded was his, not japanese, the language he spoke was his, not english, so on. When he left his dream world he ravaged the earth destroying culture, claiming its possessions. He prayed to god to wipe away all culture from the world and sceamed on his knees horrified as every part of him burned…

  9. …We are made of a wide variety of culture, we need to remember that and embrace it, that we are children born of many wolrds colliding, bringing new things into this world because of this mixture. The matrix is based on anime fight scenes, anime comes from astro boy, that manga comes from western comics, which are a visual variation on books, book massproduced version of scripture and that a written adaption of local legends.we're all human, countries are just lines drawn in sand with a stick

  10. yes but art changes inidividual knowledge into public knowledge, instead of one artist feeling they hate bankers, suddenly everyone knows everyone else is sick of bankers and that means we have enough people to rebel.

  11. 1). You did not mean that. You didn't talk about that at all. You just went headfirst and declared something false that wasn't even mentioned in the video.
    2). Smh.
    3). When did I say what the topic was? You're not making any sense at all. I simply said that what you thought the topic was isn't the correct interpretation of her talk. Look at the title of the video if you really want to know the topic.
    4). Watch it again. You obviously have no idea what you're talking about.

  12. She's giving an example to prove her point. What better way to talk about how culture changes through art than going into detail on her own and how it has changed?
    The reason she uses race/nation to talk about culture is because her race does have a developed culture of it's own. I have to simply disagree on where you see her focus and emphasis.
    She points you to focus on what people are in an effort to explain why they do/make something.

  13. I don't think I've heard that parable before. Interesting.
    Are you referring to someone? Or are you just sharing that with us?

  14. Ok. I just thought your first two comments seemed a little….racist. But that's just my thought. You seem to at least have an argument for why you feel the way you do, so I agree in that this probably won't go anywhere.
    I hope the best and good luck!

  15. Just sharing the parable, making the point that everything we have has its roots in cultures from around the world, to deny culture is to deny the origins of everything we have made together, as one species. Wish all that away, and you will strip yourself bare and be destroyed by the fire. All of this is our culture, because we have absorbed part of all of it, and have awe and reverence for it.

  16. "whites" really? half the world has the same culture? you were racist in your explanation :p
    you should have used names like "Nordic Europeans, Celtic/British, Latin Europeans, Indians, eastern Asians (or more specific), etc." as "whites" have like 30-40% of all the DIFFERENT cultures in the world

  17. And you don't think there are numerous other nationalities among the other groups as well? If you insist:
    Or any other fucking group that I haven't mentioned or made a reference to. Sorry if I generalized to far for you to understand what I meant.

  18. skinhead is a subculture it has no direct affiliation with racism. there is skinhead reggae, but there is also skinhead fascist white power groups and bands. anyways.. FUCK A NAZI… Ⓐ

  19. I love this!! thanks! I create "cultural/multicultural art" and was looking for other artists who do the same thing…this was a great find

  20. To say that this video was anything short of extraordinary would be a gross deviation from any form of reality as you understand it. What a powerful explanation of Arts power! I'm happy to report that my greatest take away from this class has nothing to do with Art, except to associate it to the power of its influence to move a culture. The true take-away for me in much more a sociological one than an artist one. But, in my own analysis of this class, I've discovered the importance of Art (in its many forms) to change a world for positive, healthy, love of mankind reasons, and that is so much more than any particular piece of artistic expression and it's aesthetic beauty.

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