Mellon Research Initiative: Events

Materiality in Japan:  Making, Breaking and Conserving Works of Art and Architecture

April 11, 2014
Organized by Anton Schweizer, 2012-2014 IFA/Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Video of this conference is available here.

Japan is widely regarded as an exemplar in terms of the preservation of material integrity, the perpetuation of historical production techniques and the responsible preservation of works of architecture and artifacts in museum contexts. The Japanese certification system for Cultural Property – which also includes the category of Living National Treasures for specialist craftsmen who embody manufacturing techniques as Intangible Cultural Property – has earned far-reaching acclaim. It is frequently overlooked, however, that there is actually a wide range of divergent approaches towards originality and authenticity even in contemporary Japan. While some of these inconsistencies find their counterparts in the West, others are related to pre-modern cultural practices, e.g. concurrent concepts of artifacts in divergent contexts of reception and evaluation.

This conference attempts to shed light on this issue with a series of case studies as a means to deconstruct overly simplistic explanatory models.

The conference schedule will follow three thematic sections:

I “Object practices” will address practices of production, maintenance, repair and renewal in pre-modern Japan. Of particular interest will be distinctive concepts of temporality and permanence, substitution, preservation and functionality.

II “Approaches to curating and conserving” will examine dichotomies among the contemporary approaches to authenticity and material integrity in Japan, Europe and North America. In particular, a focus will be laid on a discussion of the often-postulated continuities between pre-modern and contemporary practices in Japan, and of challenges to established paradigms of material integrity in the West.

III “Ensemble cultures” will address relevant practices which employed artifacts in larger contexts of spatial organization, object groups or decorative ensembles. A particular focus will be laid on processes of re-interpretation, re-evaluation, categorization and historiographical engagement of artifacts, and the corresponding practices of display.



Opening Remarks: Anton Schweizer, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Session I:  Object Practices

Murielle Hladik, Architect and curator, Paris and Associate Professor, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'architecture de Clermont-Ferrand ENSACF: Architecture and Temporality: Cyclical Rebuilding, Displacement and Transfer

Andrew Watsky, Professor of Japanese Art History, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University: Tea Utensil/Sacred Thing: Objects In and Out of Sixteenth-Century chanoyu

Jennifer Perry, Conservator for Japanese paintings in the Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Japanese Scroll Mountings:  Tools of Presentation and Preservation

Moderator: Dipti Khera, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History and the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University



Session II: Approaches to Curating and Conserving

Christoph Henrichsen, Architectural conservator and independent scholar, Cologne: Traditional Repair and Contemporary Restoration in the Conservation of Historic Wooden Architecture in Japan

Monika Bincsik, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art: Preserving Japanese Lacquer Techniques: Replicas, Copies, and Fakes

George Wheeler, Director of Conservation Research, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University; Research Scientist, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Where is the real Isamu? Culture and context in the conservation of Noguchi’s sculptures at Mure and Long Island City

Moderator: Ivan Gaskell, Professor; Curator and Head of the Focus Gallery Project, Bard Graduate Center


Coffee break

Session III:  Ensemble Cultures

Yukio Lippit, Harris K. Weston Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University: The Ashikaga object

Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, Handa IFAC Curator for Japanese Arts, British Museum and Research Director, Sainsbury Institute: Broken Pots: Re-positioning the Early Modern Archaeological Heritage of Japan to Reveal Taste in Dining among the Elite

Rosina Buckland, Senior Curator of Japanese Collections, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh: Divergent Discourses of Aesthetic Appreciation in Bakumatsu and Meiji Japan

Moderator: Deborah L. Krohn, Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center; Fellow, Spring 2014, Italian Academy for Advanced Studies 


Reception (Loeb room)