PRINT May 1991



PERHAPS EVERY IMPERIUM has had its official collection, and perhaps these collections always began as piles of war trophies. Some of those piles have lasted: in the 1970s a bill was introduced in Congress to provide for the establishment of a museum of the Central Intelligence Agency. In London there is an Imperial War Museum. Others have vanished, like Montezuma’s zoo for animals from the far reaches of his empire—a museum of natural history. But whatever has happened to the piles physically, they have transformed themselves as institutions. When the European states began to expand their empires, the line between art and beautiful things from other places became too fine to draw. There came to be mixtures of art, war trophies, and tourist curios, museums of collections.

The United States began without a history. In its process of self-realization and self-recognition, the nation has had

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