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Thelma Golden – freestyle, frequency, flow

This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

TED announces that there will be three events this year – the one we’re participating in Long Beach, an event curated by Bruno Giussani in Oxford this summer, and a new event in India titled “The Future Becons”. That event will occur at the Infosys training campus in Mysore and will feature 100 Indian TED fellows, like the TED Arusha conference that succeeded so well.

Of course, TED now reaches far more than the people who can come to the conferences. TED Talks on video have reached millions of viewers, and they’re going o reach even more, as June Cohen announces that TED Talks will now have subtitles in 25 languages, including Hindi, Swahili and Tamil. The exciting next step is allowing open translation, which will let anyone translate talks into any language – a wonderful approach to buiding bridges in the polyglot internet.

Evan Schwartz really likes The Wizard of Oz. Referring to L. Frank Baum’s first novel as “the Harry Potter of his time,” Schwartz has spent years researching the real-world origins of the wizard of Oz. His new book, Finding Oz, explores the question of “who’s the man behind the curtain?”

Is it Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, master of electricity? Or John D. Rockefeller, the venal and greedy oil baron? The great showman PT Barnum? Or an Indian teacher, Swami Vivekanadra, who taught people to discover themselves through contemplation and yoga?

All, he tells us – the wizard is a shape-shifter, and his book explores the history of the early twentieth century as well as the protean nature of the book’s central character.

Thelma Golden, director and curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, is known for discovering innovative and challenging artists and featuring their work.

Golden learned to curate when she was only eight, using “fun-tack” and the cards from the board game, Masterpiece, re-organizing works so they would be in dialog with each other.

She wanted to curate and study black art, inspired by figures like Jimmy J.J. Walker on Good Times, the first black artist she got to see on television, and Jean Michel Basquiat, the first black artist she saw working in the world she longed to inhabit. But she studied art history at a moment when the canon still included very few artists of color, and studying black art might mean looking at paintings by Frank Stella.

Her show “Black Male” in 1994 at the Whitney was widely celebrated and caused a great deal of dialog and conversation about the portrayal of African-American males.

Her work now is with the Studio Museum of Harlem, “the psychic heart of black experience.” She’s looking at the question of whether a museum be a catalyst for transforming a community. A work that’s central to her thinking is a depiction of a wonderful maxim by Muhammed Ali: “Me, We” – a compact statement of individual and community.

Her exploration of the question what it means now to see art as a catalyst has led her to a set of three shows, featuring 40 young artists over 8 years, titled “freestyle”, “frequency”, and “flow”. These shows explore an idea of “post-black”, what it means to address race in a rapidly changing and recontextualizing world. The most recent show, “flow”, looks “not looking from Harlem out, but looking across” at artists born on the African continent.