Art Historian and MICA Art History, Theory, and Criticism Faculty Sarah-Neel Smith was recently awarded grant funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a research project that will challenge hermetic, nationalist understandings of “American art” by recentering the transcultural dynamics of political expansionism and cultural encounter.
Smith’s project, “Envisioning the Middle East: The Lost History of America’s Artistic Exchanges, 1952–1979” is a revisionist account of the work of seven American artists who visited North Africa and the Middle East in the early decades of the Cold War, including Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Andy Warhol.
“Programs like the NEH actually change how history is written––whose voices get heard, who makes it into the history books,” she said via email. “It is an incredible honor to join this community of scholars who are shaping a more ethical and inclusive vision of the humanities.”
Drawing on an extensive archive of unpublished documents, Smith’s Envisioning the Middle East uncovers a series of lost histories—histories of soft power and neo-imperialism, discovery and appropriation––that continue to shape the contemporary art world today.
About Sarah-Neel Smith
Sarah-Neel Smith’s work focuses on modernisms in a global and comparative perspective, with a particular focus on artistic exchanges between the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the United States. A graduate of Smith College, she holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles and teaches in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her writing has appeared in Art Journal, ARTMargins, Third Text, Bidoun and frieze. Her first book, Metrics of Modernity: Art and Development in Postwar Turkey, will be published with University of California Press in February 2022.