Joanna Mendelssohn studied under Bernard Smith as one of the first cohort of honours graduates in Fine Arts at the University of Sydney. She then worked at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, under Daniel Thomas and Tony Tuckson. After some years of working as a curator and then art critic, she joined UNSW where she became the coordinator of the Master of Art Administration, at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW where she also taught Australian art history and writing. On her retirement she was appointed an honorary associate professor.
Her first book was the seminal study on Sydney Long (1979). This was followed by a series of studies on Lionel Lindsay. The research for her book, Lionel Lindsay: an artist and his family (Chatto & Windus, London 1988) was supported by a Literature Board Fellowship. She later revisited the ways in which the mythology of the Lindsay family had been created in her PhD thesis at the University of Sydney, This was reworked and published as Letters & Liars: Norman Lindsay and the Lindsay family (Angus & Robertson 1996). She wrote the catalogue for the 1990 Yellow House exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was curator for the touring exhibition Larter Family Values (Casula 2006) and Lionel's Place ( Maitland 2017).
Her most recent book, co-authored with Catherine De Lorenzo, Alison Inglis and Catherine Speck, is Australian Art Exhibitions: Opening our eyes, (T&H 2018). This project is the culmination of an ARC Linkage Project with UNSW, University of Melbourne and University of Adelaide in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia and Museums Australia.
In 2003 Mendelssohn was instrumental in organising the national collaboration of universities and cultural institutions that ensured the future of Joan Kerr's research for The Dictionary of Australian Artists by creating the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online, which has now evolved into Design and Art of Australia Online (aka DAAO). The DAAO is one of the data bases collaborating with the University of Melbourne to create the Australian Cultural Data Engine for Research, Industry and Government.
Pascall Prize, 1991