What do you collect?
Why do you collect?

Collecting is a deeply human impulse, rooted in the desire to preserve memory in the face of rapid political, environmental, and technological change.

In order to quell fears of entropy and change, humans assume a level of control over these anxieties by possessing objects such as the ones featured in this collection. By doing so, collectors seek to preserve a set of memories, both personal and collective. Romantic and sentimental visions of the past privilege retrospection over the present moment. Nostalgia is a seductive force that purports an attainable past. When objects are imbued with a nostalgic tone our relationship with them grows complicated. They become more than a dated photograph, print or painting, to be almost inseparable from the enticing past moment that they represent. In obtaining objects connected to the past, we seek to control our own modern anxieties by possessing tangible representatives of a seemingly better time.

Museums are devoted to this notion, providing a space for the preservation of objects deemed important. Museums have historically presented a hierarchy of cultural memory, privileging what is considered “high art” over the mass-produced or every day. Collectibles such as postcards and souvenir photographs allow us to simultaneously possess and process change, making this type of material culture worthy of discussion in the museum space alongside fine art. By exploring objects from the early modern to contemporary moment, (im)permanence highlights the importance of individual and collective memory to our uncertain relationship with modernity.

Architectural Ruins

Often preserved through photographs and other reproductions, ruins reference an ideal that has fallen into disrepair. This kind of decay is often monumentalized as a cultural landmark, and are visited as tourist attractions and distributed through postcards.


Romanticizing nature in order to capture the perfect view and grasp an intangible moment is a theme connecting these photographs and prints. Industrialization heightens the ongoing anxiety of losing pastoral views to architecture.

Beauty & Death

These works speak to the concept of preservation, and using art to preserve ideas of ancient cultures and forms. The figures in these works are suspended between life and death, a figurative “limbo” representing cultural anxieties surrounding memory. If we preserve mementos of a dying culture, a dying ideal, or a dying art, what do we stand to gain?


These photographs and illustrations of war provide a romantic view of history, though sometimes a troubled one. They capture and preserve lives that were lost due to combat and pay tribute to the sacrifices of soldiers, but can also act as propaganda. As images of victors–or martyred warriors–what do these works have to say on the legacy of war?

Video: “Kenyon: Then and Now”
This video, created by Rosa Romura, Charlotte Lee, Claire Koelling, and Rose Bishop, relates the exhibition’s themes to the evolving architectural changes made to the Kenyon campus. It was played on a continuous loop in the exhibition. Approximately 3 min.

Podcast: “Impermanence” Podcast
This podcast is an audio walking tour of Kenyon’s campus that — like the video above — relates the exhibition’s themes to the campus architecture and landscape. A QR code was provided in the exhibition so that visitors could easily access this file. Narrated by Katie Lovins. Approximately 6 minutes.

Download the (im)permanence worksheet for younger visitors.

Installation, website, and associated educational programming designed by students enrolled in ARHS371: Museum Studies, including Rose Bishop, Luisa Estrada, Jessica Ferrer, Stephanie Holstein, Anastasia Inciardi, Claire Koelling, Charlotte Lee, Katie Lovins, Bailey Luke, Harlee Mollenkopf, Rosa Rumora, and Deirdre Sheridan.

Austin Porter, Assistant Professor of Art History

May 1–5, 2017
Meier-Draudt Visual Learning Lab, Gund Gallery