Comini Fellowship First Recipient

Art history Ph.D. student Alice Heeren Sabato wins first Comini Fellowship

Alice Heeren Sabato, who will earn a Ph.D. in art history at SMU Meadows in December 2020, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Alessandra Comini International Fellowship for Art History Studies at Meadows. The $25,000 fellowship is awarded annually to an outstanding Meadows doctoral or post-doctoral art history student in pursuit of landmark research abroad that embraces multiple perspectives and cultural influences. Heeren Sabato’s dissertation research focuses on critical reassessments of the city of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, in contemporary art.

“The Alessandra Comini International Fellowship for Art History Studies at Meadows has been instrumental to my doctoral work,” said Heeren Sabato. “As a contemporary specialist, the research necessary to complete my dissertation demanded both one-on-one studio visits with contemporary artists from Brazil, France, England, the U.S., and Germany, and visits to archives such as the Rio de Janeiro National Library, Foundation Le Corbusier, and the Archive of the City of Brasília, to name just a few. Without the support of the donors, I would have been unable to travel so extensively, experience the contemporary artworks I study in person, and complete such thorough archival work. The experience and wealth of material I have gathered during my travels will surely impact the quality of my dissertation, as well as future publication and exhibition projects.”

Heeren Sabato, a native of Brazil, earned a B.F.A. in printmaking and B.A. in art education from the School of Fine Arts of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and an M.A. in art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She spent time as a curatorial intern at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was an editor for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. She has published articles, reviews and book chapters on aspects of Latin American art in scholarly journals and has presented her work in numerous academic institutions and museums. In 2014, she received the Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship at SMU to pursue research in Italy on the rhetoric of space in its ethical and affective dimensions in the city of Rome under Benito Mussolini to draw parallels between the Italian case and the urban reform planned for Rio de Janeiro during the same period. She specializes in modern and contemporary Latin American art and architecture with an emphasis in critical theory, ethics, memory studies and affect theory.

The new fellowship is named in honor of SMU Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art History Alessandra Comini, who retired in 2005. It was launched thanks to early support from donors Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo and Charlotte Whaley. Cassullo, a New York-based philanthropist and arts patron originally from North Texas, attended SMU and studied with Dr. Comini.

“Dr. Comini’s class lectures, filled with an abundance of clever insights and always presented with an entertainingly dramatic flair, instilled a lifelong passion of art in all of her students,” said Cassullo. “She urged us to remain intrigued about what we see, and to challenge ourselves to discover what meanings may lie hidden in a work of art. Now looking back over many decades, I realize that this was Dr. Comini’s gift to all of us: curiosity. It is especially exciting to me to know that the Alessandra Comini Fellowship will honor her legacy by continuing to capture the imaginations of SMU students.” 

Dr. Comini has a legacy of international scholarship and literature. In addition to earning degrees from Barnard, University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, she has taught at Berkeley and Yale, served as the Alfred Hodder Resident Humanist at Princeton University, and was named Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Oxford University’s European Humanities Research Centre. Two documentaries have been made about her discovery of Expressionist painter Egon Schiele’s cell in the town of Neulengbach, Austria, and in 2018 she was a guest of honor at the opening of a new exhibit at the Schiele museum in his birth town of Tulln. In addition, Comini has penned a number of fiction mysteries based on luminaries of the art world such as Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Munch and others, and was awarded the Grand Decoration of Honor by the Republic of Austria in recognition of her contributions to Germanic culture.

“I cannot think of any more worthy scholar than Alice Heeren Sabato to be the inaugural recipient of an international study grant bearing my name,” said Dr. Comini. “Her fields of research concerning Brazil and Italy focus a fresh set of lenses on specific topics and are important to cultural history. Her continuing publication history resulting from fruitful sojourns in three major American cities, Chicago, New York, and Dallas, is impressive and, one senses, unstoppable. As someone who at the age of four in 1938 had to flee with her parents Mussolini’s Italy, I find the linking of my name with her name by way of a fellowship uncannily appropriate. I wish Alice Heeren Sabato continuing success with her imaginative projects and joy in the knowledge that the results will add to history.”

The Meadows Development Office is working to raise $500,000 to permanently endow the fellowship. To join the effort, visit and indicate “Comini International Fellowship” in the designation field. For more information, call 214.768.4189.