Alison Gass, a leading curator of contemporary art and a senior leader at university museums, has been appointed the director of the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art.
Gass will serve as the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum starting May 1, leading the University’s fine arts museum and its thought-provoking exhibitions, distinctive public and arts education programs, varied collaborations with students and faculty, and exquisite collection of more than 15,000 objects.
Gass has been the chief curator and associate director for exhibitions and collections at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University since 2014. Prior to that, she was a member of the leadership team that opened the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, including serving as the museum’s acting director.
“Ali is an accomplished curator with a strong understanding of the impact a university museum has on campus and in the broader community. Her appointment is essential to growing the arts at the University of Chicago and expanding their role in scholarship and public life,” Provost Daniel Diermeier said.
“I am excited by the University’s commitment to visual arts, interdisciplinary exploration and community engagement,” Gass said. “I look forward to shaping what it means to be a great art museum at a top research university, while helping to define the role of the Smart in the constellation of world-class art museums in Chicago and beyond.”
Gass has curated major exhibitions at the Cantor Arts Center, Broad Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She was featured in a 2010 New York Times article highlighting “the new guard of curators,” and is a fellow this year at the Center for Curatorial Leadership. Gass has taught at institutions including California College of the Arts and the City College of New York.
At the Cantor Arts Center, Gass has led the development of an academically engaged exhibitions program, overseeing a re-installation of the museum’s permanent collection. She also organized a major public commission and exhibition project with Trevor Paglen set for later this month. While at the Broad Art Museum, Gass helped establish a global contemporary art program featuring Imran Qureshi, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Hope Gangloff, Teresita Fernandez, Sharon Hayes and others.
“Ali brings a global outlook and strong passion for art and learning to the Smart and its diverse and interesting collection. I look forward to seeing her elevate the museum and expand its impact at the University and in the community,” said Pamela Hoehn-Saric, chair of the Smart Museum’s Board of Governors.
While Gass has focused on contemporary art as a curator, her approach is rooted in putting art into context and viewing works through the lens of history. Gass traces her interest in curation to the first art history class she took as an undergraduate at Columbia University. In exhibitions, Gass said she focuses on making art feel vital to people’s perspectives on their place in the world. That includes pioneering a residency for artists at the Broad Art Museum focused on land, food, water and energy that connected to Michigan State University’s history as a land grant university and the continued role of agricultural studies.
“Beyond her impeccable taste and daring talent-scouting as a contemporary art curator, Ali Gass understands university art museums and their unique strength to draw on cutting-edge thinking and research done by students and faculty,” said Professor Christine Mehring, chair of UChicago’s Department of Art History. “She will take the Smart -- along with the visual arts that are now bubbling everywhere at the University -- into an ambitious future.”
Gass earned her bachelor’s degree from Columbia and holds a graduate degree in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She began her curatorial career at the Jewish Museum in New York City, then became an Assistant Curator at SFMOMA. While there, Gass curated the New Work series and a Paul Klee Cubism exhibition.
—Mark Peters, UChicago News