With over 35 years of experience working in art museums, Joseph Mella managed, curated, and oversaw the operations of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and its collections, and since the summer of 2019, has served as Herron School of Art and Design’s Gallery Director and Curator. Prior to arriving at Vanderbilt in 1992, Mella served as Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, Illinois, and in a similar capacity at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont.

He holds an M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he also completed a Certificate in Art Collection Care and Maintenance. Mella received a B.F.A. in Printmaking from the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

Mella has curated and organized over 130 exhibitions, including several since arriving at Herron. Informed by a curatorial practice that embraces a trans-institutional, interdisciplinary approach that puts diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront while striving for a wide range of opportunities for student engagement, Mella has brought some of the leading artists and creatives working today to Indianapolis. Examples of recent projects either curated or presented by Mella while at Herron include:

  • the work of Dan Mills whose practice investigates national and global networks of power, commerce, and migration that underpin societies
  • photographs by the internationally-recognized activist-documentary photographer, Donna Ferrato whose pioneering work on domestic violence in America in the 1980s continues to resonate today
  • international exhibitions by such artists as Nepalese artist, Tsherin Sherpa and Mongolian artist, Tuguldur Yondonjamts
  • establishing a series of annual exhibitions at Herron focusing on graphic arts and illustration
  • collaborations that led to an exhibition by students in the Museum Studies program at the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI that examined large and small ways that museums are working to right historical wrongs
  • the increasingly-recognized work of ceramicist, Paul Briggs' investigation into mass incarceration of Black lives 

Under Mella's leadership, Herron's robust Visiting Artist Series has brought distinguished artists, designers, critics, and scholars to Herron including Paula Scher, Sanford Wurmfeld, Ghada Amer, and David Klamen, Tuguldur Yondonjamts, Eleanor Heartney, and Anne Harris.

In his previous role as Director of the Fine Arts Gallery at Vanderbilt University, Mella was responsible for the establishment and subsequent development of an important collection of contemporary graphics, photographs, drawings, and artists’ books with strengths found in work by living women artists such as Mona Hatoum, Donna Ferrato, Carrie May Weems, Maria Magdalena Campos Pons, Louise Bourgeois, Alison Saar, Kara Walker, Shirin Neshat, Leslie Dill, Koo Kyung Sook, Sue Coe, Kiki Smith, Lorna Simpson, and Christine Baumgartner. He was also responsible for adding the work of other highly recognized artists such as Gerhard Richter, Martin Puryear, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Bruce Conner, Hamish Fulton, Robert Colescott, Joseph Kosuth, Enrique Chagoya, Sigmar Polke, Willie Cole, Alexis Rockman, Mel Chin, and Terry Winters, all while directing a vibrant exhibition and speakers’ program that spanned over 25 years.