Organized Panel Session
Through the lens of an interdisciplinary methodology entailing historiography and visual and sociological analysis, this paper explores the intersection of boundary objects and institutional memory, especially in terms of how the social lives of cultural objects influence institutional discourse and subsequent cultural production. I use the sociological notion of boundary objects, described as having great interpretive plasticity, as a conceptual tool for understanding the trajectories of influential cultural products. To address the above-stated question, the paper investigates the complex legacy of the Japanese ceramics collected by Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), Detroit-based industrialist and founder of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art. I understand these Japanese ceramics as a collection, shaped by the collector’s choices within his social network of fellow collectors, dealers, critics, and artists. Freer’s taste is partly discernable through several sources, including his documented evaluative remarks. The paper aims to shed light on the impact of the collection, thus understood, in the aftermath of the collector's passing, particularly as part of the Freer Gallery in the 1920s and 1930s. Through an analysis of archival material ranging from accounts of museum visits to exhibition catalogues from the period under investigation, I focus on the continuing effect of Freer’s Japanese ceramics on shaping local understandings of Japanese arts and on influencing new ceramic production. To help elucidate this effect, I examine some of the sociocultural channels that fueled the visibility of the museum's Japanese ceramics amidst artists, particularly ceramists, in the United States, France, and Japan in the interwar period.