Biographical Narrative 2017
Carolee Thea is an artist, writer, curator and art critic. Combining an astute knowledge of art history, contemporary art and global culture, Thea recently completed her international book series of interviews with curators. On Curating 2 // Paradigm Shifts (Interviews with 14 International Curators), published by D.A.P. in 2016, focuses on the mushrooming of the international biennial in the post-colonial, post-soviet, and emerging nations in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia.
The foreward for On Curating 2 // Paradigm Shifts was written by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Included in this publication are interviews with Nancy Adajania, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, David Elliott, Mami Kataoka, Sunjung Kim, Koyo Kouoh, Gerardo Mosquera, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Jack Persekian, José Roca, Bisi Silva, Carol Yinghua Lu, Alia Swastika and WHW.
For the launch of this book, D.A.P. hosted a symposium at the Americas Society, featuring the author and renowned panelists: Tania Bruguera (Cuban installation and performance artist), Alexandra Munroe (Samsung Senior Curator of Asian Art and the Senior Advisor of Global Arts at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation), Steven Henry Madoff (Chair, MA Curatorial Practice SVA), and Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (Curator of African Art at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College and Co-curator of the 2014 Dak’Art Biennial).
Thea’s second book, On Curating / Interviews with 10 International Curators, was published by D.A.P. in 2009, and was rereleased in 2011 as the publisher’s first e-book. Hans-Ulrich Obrist wrote the foreword, and the interviewees are: Joseph Backstein, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Okwui Enwezor, Charles Esche, Massimiliano Gioni, RoseLee Goldberg, Mary Jane Jacob, Virginia Pérez-Ratton, Pi Li and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Foci: Interviews with 10 International Curators, published in 2001 by Apexart Curatorial Program, has been translated into several languages. The foreword is by Barry Schwabsky, and the interviewees are: Dan Cameron, Hou Hanru, Yuko Hasegawa, Mariá Hlavajová, Vasif Kortun, Kasper König, Barbara London, Rosa Martínez, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Harald Szeemann.
Thea received funding for her book trilogy from Artspire (NYFA) in 2012, The Mercosul Biennial Foundation in 2011, the Gwangju Biennale Foundation in 2002 and 2012 (where she interviewed six curators from Asia), and from the Istanbul Biennial Foundation in 2003, 2006 and 2009. While in Istanbul, the Foundation supported her travel to other parts of Turkey (Dyabakar) for research, talks and education. In 2007, Thea was invited to Vietnam by the artist Dinh Q. Le, founder of the artist-run gallery San Art in Ho Chi Minh City.
In 2017, Thea was selected as the Gund Visiting Curator at Hunter CUNY. Her research archive, including her original interviews with curators, was acquired in December 2012 by the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies and the Hessel Museum of Art’s Library and Archives. In 2004 she was invited as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar to the American Academy in Rome.
Thea’s many articles, reviews and interviews have been published in national and international journals, magazines and newspapers, including Parkett, artforum.com, Artnet, BOMB, ArtAsiaPacific, The Brooklyn Rail and Atlantica, where she also served as the English editor for the 45th issue. She has been a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Sculpture Magazine.
As curator and essayist, Thea worked with the Architectural Institute of America, the Canal Street Billboard Projects, Skidmore College Gallery and The Hofstra University Museum. Thea was the curatorial assistant and coordinator for the International curator Amnon Barzel for the exhibition Remote Connections at the Graz Museum in Austria and Art Focus in Jerusalem and Denmark in 1996-97. In the 1980s, she was a curatorial advisor to Artists Representing Environmental Art.
As a multimedia artist, Thea’s work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions. She was awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990. In 1988, she received an award from the Athena Foundation for her work in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York, and from 1977-79, Thea was a C.A.P.S. finalist. Parallel to her artworks, she began writing in 1976, when she served on the editorial board of Heresies V, a Feminist Publication on Art and Politics.
Thea earned a B.A. in International Relations from Columbia University, where she minored in the study of African Art, under the advisement of field expert Doug Fraser. She also holds an M.A. from Hunter College, City University of New York. Her 1976 thesis was an investigation of the ritual and power symbols found in the mask of the Bundu/Sande society of the Mende-speaking people in West Africa, the only such secret society in which women are permitted to wear the mask. Thea analyzed the role of the mask as a non-exoticized object relating to the ritual purpose and aesthetics of its culture and configured such in a framework of the contemporary issues of gender.
As a graduate student at Hunter College, Thea worked with Leo Steinberg, Robert Morris and Robert Barry. Steinberg and Thea remained lifelong friends. In his 1976 article “Eve’s Idle Hand,” published in the Art Journal, Steinberg quotes and credits her analysis of the Temptation Panel in the Sistine Ceiling and, in the years following, he secured The Vatican’s permission for Thea to ascend the scaffold during its cleaning, an experience that remains one of the most profound of her life.