Curator Thelma Golden talks taste
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My personal style signifiers are bold, colourful dresses and skirts, made possible by the amazing designs of my husband, Duro Olowu. He has a masterful use of colour, pattern and form and his graphic dresses allow me to make a full statement.
The last thing I bought and loved was a pair of Nike Air Rift sneakers. This might have been my first new pair in 20 years, and I like them because I have so much nostalgia for the prior iteration. Over the past year I have spent so much time walking in my community, and these sneakers are helping me to discover New York City anew.
And on my wishlist is an Agnes Baddoo tote. She’s an LA-based accessories designer and I am eyeing one of the beautiful “sacs” from her new range of colours that includes olive and deep purple. I love her commitment to high-quality production. Her bags are so useable and take me through my whole day. Belt Sac, from $350, agnesbaddoo.com
My favourite room in my house is my living room. I live in an open-plan loft, so the living room is the centre of the space and has incredible light and views out to the streets of Harlem. I can see over the treetops of Morningside Park, the dome of the Cathedral of St John the Divine and Alison Saar’s Harriet Tubman Memorial below. This room feels serene, but I love the street life and energy just outside.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a ceramic bowl by Theaster Gates from his Chicago studio. I also recently found a vase at Paula Greif Ceramics on a recent trip to Hudson, New York, with my friend the artist Glenn Ligon. paulagreifceramics.com
The best books I’ve read in the past year are many! So much of my time has been spent reading and re-reading books that are important to me. One of the highlights was Daphne Brooks’s Liner Notes for the Revolution. It’s a history of black women musicians, from Aretha Franklin to Bessie Smith to Beyoncé, and shows how they’ve informed intellectual life and the black female sound.
A recent “find” is the artisan Harlem Chocolate Factory. Its Golden Brownstone Gift Set includes chocolate bars shaped like traditional brownstones that are dusted with gold and reflect the neighbourhood’s rich history. $60, harlemchocolatefactory.com
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a vintage YSL dress. It’s black with multicoloured polka dots and a bow at the neck. I love this style and bought it with the hope and promise of upcoming festive occasions. resee.com
The podcasts I’m listening to are The New Yorker Radio Hour; Kai Wright’s The United States of Anxiety; On Being with Krista Tippett; Questlove Supreme; and Brooke DeVard’s Naked Beauty podcast, which looks at beauty through the lens of culture. New York Public Radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show is essential for the latest local and national news. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg. My days are filled with meetings and calls, so listening to podcasts in the early mornings and late at night is a form of relaxation.
My style icon is the late actress Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis in the 1970s TV series The Jeffersons. Her pleated skirt and blouse combinations, her great capes and chic wraps – she embodied the style of that era and of being a modern woman. I viewed her with awe. Her style remains the epitome of elegance and sophistication.
The best gifts I’ve given recently are “Black Is Beautiful” onesies to some new humans who have just come into the world. $20, studiomuseum.org
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a Lorna Simpson merino-wool blanket. It’s incredibly soft, measures 5ft by 8ft when unfurled and really is representative of her body of work. This amazing blanket was made in celebration of my 20 years of leadership at the Studio Museum and I’m honoured to have the prototype. $1,200, hauserwirth.com
My grooming and wellbeing gurus include hair stylist Edris Nicolls, who has done my hair for years, and facialist Crystal Greene of Crystal Greene Studio in Hudson Square. For fitness, I rely on trainer Tiffany Mason at Harlem Pilates and also my good friend Elena Brower for strengthening yoga. elenabrower.com
In my fridge you’ll always find Oatly oat milk, Trader Joe’s pineapple juice, Olipop root beer and Serengeti chai tea. There are endless condiments, including Tamarind Oh! from Essie Spice that I use on everything from poultry to vegetables. I also have greens from the Harlem Farmers’ Market, and there is always ice cream from Sugar Hill Creamery. They once named a flavour for me – Golden Chai – and I’m hoping they’ll bring it back.
I have a collection of limited-edition functional objects by a range of artists. One of my most prized is a sculptural pitcher by Kara Walker. I also have a set of plates from the Coalition for the Homeless project that includes designs by Derrick Adams and Adam Pendleton. These objects allow me to have these artists in my life in ways outside of the museum.
The objects I would never part with are my grandparents’ and my parents’ things: a colander that I saw in use throughout my entire life; my mother’s crystal serving bowl; the china that my father bought for my grandmother in Japan, when he served in the army; the 1970s ashtray that my parents bought in Spain; and my father’s pocket squares.
An indulgence I would never forgo is an Ethiopian spice mix called berbere. I was introduced to it by chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster in Harlem, and it has so informed my approach to cooking and being adventurous with flavour. It’s a mild chilli spice, but with hints of citrus and smoke.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Alma Thomas. When I was a student at Smith College, I got an internship at The Studio Museum in Harlem where I learned about her work. Her story inspired me and set me on my career path. She was deeply engaged in the civic life of Washington, DC, and in 1972, she was the first African-American woman to exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I’d like any of her paintings; I adore her work. We also share a birthday – 22 September – so I feel a connection to her spirit.
The beauty staples I’m never without include Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Infatuated Red; Pattern Heavy Conditioner for Coilies; Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum; Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum; Hanahana Beauty Shea Body Butter; and, last but not least, Ami Cole Lip Treatment Oil, which moisturises and adds a hint of colour. Ami Cole Lip Treatment Oil, $20. Hanahana Shea Body Butter, $28. Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum, £32. Pattern Heavy Conditioner for Coilies, $25. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum, $185
The work of art that changed everything for me was a bust of WEB Du Bois by the artist Inge Hardison, who was a friend of my mom’s. Hardison was a sculptor in the ’60s who created busts of prominent African-Americans – Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Dr Martin Luther King. This piece was probably the first work by an artist that I seriously engaged with as a child.
I’ve recently discovered Words of Art by Catherine Gund. It’s a collaborative card game that uses art from renowned collector/philanthropist Agnes Gund’s private collection as a prompt for conversation and connection. $37.50, penguinrandomhouse.com
The last music I downloaded was Jason Moran’s The Sound Will Tell You. The piano recording came out at the same time as an exhibition of his works on paper, and I love that it was inspired by Toni Morrison. I am currently listening and re-listening to anything by Joni Mitchell, Laraaji Clay’s Moon Piano and Esperanza Spalding’s Songwrights Apothecary Lab, which is mesmerising, hypnotic and fills me with emotion.
The gadget I couldn’t do without is a Chef’n Looseleaf Kale and Herb Stripper for cleaning mustard greens and collard greens. I learned about it on Instagram Live, and it’s been the most amazing innovation for me as it saves so much prep time. $11.95, surlatable.com
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a film producer or a talk-show host because I love the opportunity to connect with creative people. I’ve always been a huge film buff, so this would be an excellent second career.