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Release: Immediate

UI graduate wins 1997 Distinguished Dissertation Award

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Susan Behrends Frank, who earned her doctorate from the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History in 1996, has won a national award for her dissertation.

Frank is the winner of the 1997 Council of Graduate Schools/University Microfilms International Distinguished Dissertation Award for the most distinguished dissertation produced in the arts and humanities in 1996-97. She will receive the award, which includes a prize of $1,000, at a Dec. 5 luncheon during the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C.

The announcement marks the third time that a UI graduate has won the CGS/UMI award, making the UI the only university to have achieved that distinction since the award was established in 1981.

"I am extremely proud that Dr. Frank has been honored for having produced the best dissertation in the arts and humanities over the past two years," said Leslie B. Sims, UI associate provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate College. "Given that 40,000 doctorate degrees are awarded each year, this award is perhaps the highest honor that can be earned by a recent graduate. The university can also take justifiable pride in its record for this award, which reflects the excellence of our graduate programs." Frank's dissertation focuses on two Spanish Surrealists, painter Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Bunuel, and the two films they made together in 1929 and 1930, UnChien andalou and L'Age d'or. The two artists, who were among the leading exponents of Surrealism, one of the major cultural revolutionary movements of the 20th century, later split because of political and philosophical differences.

"My study breaks out of the traditional literature in its contention that these two films were ambitious enterprises firmly anchored in the broader context of tradition versus modernism," Frank explained. "UnChien andalou and L'Age d'or were conceived by Dali and Bunuel as carefully ordered statements regarding culture and tradition, and with respect to L'Age d'or , politics and society.

"In fact, the confluence of art and politics in Surrealism during its most unsettling transition from dream recitation to political program provides the foundation for the study's investigation of how cultural politics can influence the production and presentation of works of art," she added.

Stephen Foster, UI professor of art history and Frank's dissertation supervisor, was effusive in his praise for Frank's work. "It would be impossible to exaggerate my pride in Susan's accomplishment. I am astonished at the sophistication of her thinking and its consistency with the best work being done in cultural studies today. She is an outstanding example of what is being described as 'the new art history' and the increased relevance that art history bears to discourses between traditionally segregated fields."

"Iowa students in art history are understandably very excited as well," he added. "Sue has performed an outstanding service to the university's art history program and implies something very positive about its future."

Frank was quick to return the compliment. "I am totally indebted to Stephen Foster for his encouragement, friendship and commitment to examining issues and ideas in modernism that require cross-disciplinary and inventive thinking," she said. "I have also been fortunate to have always had the support of the faculty in art history."

"My graduate experience at the University of Iowa and the School of Art and Art History was always intellectually challenging and nurturing. The diversity of faculty dedicated to first-rate scholarship and inquiry provided enormous stimulus for me as a young graduate student," Frank said.

Frank becomes the UI's nominee for the CGS/UMI prize after winning the 1997 D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize. This annual prize, named for the former UI Graduate Dean and Vice President for Research, is rotated each year among four disciplines: humanities and fine arts, mathematical and physical sciences, biological sciences, and social sciences.

Frank currently works at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., where she is educational assistant/coordinator and a member of a three-person team responsible for public and private tours, docent training and educational programming for the museum. She is also an adjunct assistant professor at Averett College in Vienna, Va., where she teaches history and appreciation of art.

In addition to completing her dissertation on Dali and Bunuel, Frank's doctoral studies at the UI focused on 20th Century European painting and sculpture and 19th Century Symbolist painting and sculpture. She also has a bachelor of fine arts degree in art history from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a master's degree in art history from the UI.

Previous UI winners of the CGS/UMI Dissertation Award were Matthew P. Anderson, who earned an M.D.-Ph.D. degree in 1993, and David Lasocki, who earned a doctorate in music in 1984. In addition, three other UI nominees have been finalists in national competition: Mark Knuepfer, pharmacology, 1981; Judith Stoll, biology, 1989; and Alice Adams, English, 1992.