Vanja V. Malloy, an accomplished museum director, curator, scholar and community builder, has been appointed as the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum of Art, effective Oct. 1. She will lead the University of Chicago’s fine arts museum and its exhibitions, public and arts education programs, and student and faculty collaborations.
Malloy joins the Smart Museum from the Syracuse University Art Museum, where she was appointed director and chief curator in 2019.
“Vanja is an outstanding director with broad experience elevating and advancing the work of university museums, and forming deep connections with a range of audiences, including students, staff, faculty and community members,” Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said. “I am delighted that she will join us on campus to lead the Smart Museum.”
While at Syracuse, Malloy rethought and reconfigured the display of the university’s permanent collection, introducing a rotating thematic organization that put works from a wider range of periods and cultures into conversation with one another. This innovative approach facilitated new connections across the collection while also sparking conversations among visitors about the practices and ethics of collecting art.
Malloy also founded the Art Wall Project, which annually commissions a contemporary artist to create a temporary installation at the museum supported by robust programming. In addition, she piloted a program that invited faculty fellows to rework established course curricula to engage with the museum’s collection.
“Vanja Malloy is a brilliant and inspired choice to serve as the next Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum,” said Theaster Gates, Professor of Visual Arts, who chaired the search committee. “It was clear to the search committee that she believes in Chicago as a cultural center and the Smart as a necessary artistic force for the city. I can’t wait to see all that she does for and with the Smart.”
Under Malloy’s leadership, the Syracuse University Art Museum built a new study room to support a rapidly expanding number of class visits. Malloy also oversaw the creation of a new strategic plan for the museum, which centered diversity and inclusion in the museum’s goals for collecting, exhibitions, programming and collaborative partnerships.
Prior to her tenure at Syracuse, Malloy spent five years as a curator at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. During her doctoral studies, she examined the cross-disciplinary exchange of modern art, science and technology in the early 20th century. That research informed her curatorial work at Amherst, where she organized a variety of interdisciplinary and comparative exhibitions such as Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein, which explored how a profusion of groundbreaking scientific discoveries impacted the course of art.
Before joining the Mead Art Museum, Malloy was the Chester Dale Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. She holds a Ph.D. in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London; a master’s degree in American fine and decorative arts from Sotheby’s Institute of Art; and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University.
“I have long admired the forward-thinking initiatives and exceptional energy for the arts at the University of Chicago,” Malloy said. “The Smart is uniquely positioned to bring the University and Chicago communities together through art and a spirit of inquiry that transcends traditional boundaries and disciplines. I am excited to lead the Smart’s next chapter and look forward to working closely with the museum’s talented staff, the Board of Governors, colleagues across the University, and Chicago’s South Side communities, among others.”