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Art History Professor Awarded Major National Endowment for the Humanities Grant for New Book

Sandra Zalman examines how museums in the 1960s shaped modern art history.

Sandra Zalman, associate professor and program director of art history at the University of Houston, has been awarded a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Faculty Fellowship Grant for the 2019 – 2020 academic year. Zalman was one of just 253 professors from across the country selected for the award. The $60,000 grant will support her forthcoming book, “Monumental Modernism: Museums of Modern Art and the Contest for Cultural Space.”

“This is a well-deserved honor for Sandra Zalman,” says Paula Myrick Short, UH System senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Her accomplishments reflect a growing trend of faculty at the University of Houston recognized for their significant achievements to their fields and to academia.”

A leading modern art history scholar, Zalman is no stranger to academic recognition. Her first book, “Consuming Surrealism in American Culture: Dissident Modernism,” was supported by prestigious fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Association of University Women, and was awarded the 2016 SECAC Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship. Her research has also appeared in numerous national and international publications, including Art Journal, Histoire de l’Art, Woman’s Art Journal, the Journal of Art Historiography and the Journal of Surrealism and the Americas. In recognition of her accomplishments in 2016, Zalman received UH’s Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship, which honors exceptional faculty.

“With this NEH Fellowship, Sandra Zalman has added to her already impressive list of national awards and honors,” says Andrew Davis, dean of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts. “She is truly at the forefront of her discipline, and she is a testament to the exceptional strength of our School of Art and its art history program.”

In “Monumental Modernism,” she will examine how four major art museums in the 1960s navigated the increasing pressures of contemporary culture as they shaped the recent history of modern art. In particular, she will focus on how the mid-century architectural arms race — a time during which landmark buildings, especially museums, served as physical and symbolic representations of power, urbanism and supremacy — played a key role in how modern art museums cultivated the audience for avant-garde art.

“I’m extremely honored for my book to be funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities,” says Zalman. “This research opens up larger debates that are embedded within these museums’ monumental forms — about the place of American art within the modernist canon, the difficulty of bridging the perceived gulf between popular and critical opinion, the power of art and architecture in the political arena, and the global exportation of Western ideals.”