This past October, the Southeastern College of Art Conference (SECAC) proudly named the University of Houston’s Sandra Zalman the 2016 recipient of the prestigious Award for Excellence in Scholarly Research and Publication.
The annual award is reserved for outstanding research in a book, article or series of articles published within the past two years.
Dr. Zalman, who serves as an Associate Professor of Art History in the UH School of Art, received the honor for her 2015 book Consuming Surrealism in American Culture: Dissident Modernism, an insightful text that advocates Surrealism’s integral role in the development of American visual culture. Honing in on influential curators such as the Museum of Modern Art New York’s first director Alfred Barr, she explores the role curators and exhibitions play in shaping the landscape of modern art and popular culture.
“Traditionally, art history examines the production of art. [With this book,] I’m flipping the script because I’m looking at art’s reception. I’m looking at how it’s circulated, its audience and public consumption, the institutions that promote it, how advertisers use it, and how it resurfaces in contemporary art,” she said.
The SECAC Awards Committee selected Dr. Zalman’s book because they found that it serves as a “brilliant model of how to write an art history that puts exhibitions at its center. This is something many art historians are beginning to think about in increasing earnest, but not everyone does it well.” The committee also added that Surrealism, as explored by Dr. Zalman, helps readers think through the tension between elitism and egalitarianism—or high- and lowbrow culture—in modernism.
“Surrealism is a perfect example of the cross-over between the avant-garde and the popular,” said Dr. Zalman. “It’s a perfect example of how art really affects people.”