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Sandra Zalman headshot

Sandra Zalman has been awarded The Dedalus Foundation’s 2022 Senior Fellowship for her book The Modern Remodeled: Museums of Modern Art at Mid-Century and the Construction of the Canon. Joshua I. Cohen was also awarded a fellowship for his book project Art of the Opaque: African Modernisms, Decolonization, and the Cold War.

Sandra Zalman’s book, The Modern Remodeled: Museums of Modern Art at Mid-Century and the Construction of the Canon, analyzes how New York museums commissioned major architectural expansions to position themselves at the forefront of a new kind of cultural campaign as they competed to establish supremacy as unimpeachable standard-bearers of aesthetic ideals.

In recent years, arts workers have called on museums to recognize their responsibilities as institutions that must effect cultural change and disavow their claims to neutrality. Zalman’s book demonstrates how this so-called neutral stance was first forged as a strategy to legitimize modern art.  Zalman’s book charts the competition between four Manhattan museums—the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art – all of which completed high-profile architectural commissions between 1959 and 1966 to assert distinct brands of modern art. In this charged cultural landscape, the Museum of Modern Art, especially, was under pressure to give definitive shape to its previously provisional understanding of “the modern.”  Zalman discusses how MoMA had the potential to situate modern art at the forefront of socio-political speech, but instead created a seemingly incontrovertible system of value which undermined the radical underpinnings of its original progressive mission. As museums today urgently re-assess their exhibitions and collections, they are contending with the legacy of this earlier period and its canon, which Zalman’s book argues was hardly an inevitable historical outcome, but the result of a tactical re-allocation of museum resources at midcentury.

Sandra Zalman is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Houston. She is the author of Consuming Surrealism in American Culture: Dissident Modernism (Routledge, 2018), and co-editor of Modern in the Making: MoMA and the Modern Experiment 1929-1949 (Bloomsbury, 2020).