I’ll admit it, permanence makes me nervous. The notion that a personage, artifact, structure, or even idea is sufficiently durable to remain unaltered in perpetuity seems implausible in a physical and cultural environment characterized by entropy, cataclysm, decay, degradation, and regeneration. After all, is there much that we have inherited that we could describe as having been, still being, and irrevocably destined to be permanent? One needs only to consider the Buddhas of Bamiyan or the recently lost monuments in Palmyra to recognize the inescapable temporality of even longstanding human creation. And yet permanence, with its claim of eternity, is at the core of the paradox that defines every museum.

On one hand, the...


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