Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Barnes Comes to Philadelphia - And City Hall

The Art Gallery at City Hall recently opened our newest exhibition, in partnership with Fresh Artists - "Mini-Masterpieces from the Barnes Foundation" - and it is a stunner. The show features an array of pictures created by Philadelphia School District children (from Hancock and Henry elementary schools) that are inspired by the iconic paintings of the Barnes Foundation collection. Originally developed to be reproduced and installed on panels affixed to the construction fencing that surrounded the site while the Barnes on the Parkway was being built, this installation now brings the work of these talented young people into City Hall, installed and hung in "Barnesian ensembles" that include student-made replicas of the metal hinges and objects that Barnes famously included in his ensembles. We have even painted the walls of our gallery beige to replicate the color of the wall covering in the Barnes galleries.

Fresh Artists is a unique non-profit social business that helps young artists use their art to be arts philanthropists. The students donate the digital reproduction of their art, thereby becoming partners in a philanthropic effort. Businesses that support Fresh Artists receive a "thank you" gift of the opportunity to exhibit the work in their workplaces. The funds generated are directly infused back into public school art programs to purchase art supplies and support innovative art programs. Everybody wins and it is a true virtuous circle. So please try and make it to the Art Gallery at City Hall where the exhibition runs through September 21. More info on Fresh Artists at

New Barnes building at night
And speaking of the Barnes, which I covered some time ago in my blog when the design was working its way through the approval process, here, here and here, I feel the time has come to weigh in on my thoughts about the new building. The first two posts from 2009 feature videos of architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien talking about their design. The third post, from mid-2010, is my analysis of the controversy surrounding the move of the collection from Merion.

Having now spent MANY hours in and around the new building, experiencing the extraordinary art in its new home, and experiencing the building itself, as well as the grounds and its setting, I have to say I think this facility is a stunning achievement, attained against perhaps greater odds than any other building I can imagine.

New "old" gallery - bathed in light
As has been much written about by now, the brilliant use of light in the new building allows the work to "pop" and sparkle in a way that is quite startling to those that spent a lot of time in the Merion building (as I also did). Colors are brighter, and works stand out much more than they ever did before. Yet the rooms are still exactly the same dimensions and in essentially the same configurations as in Merion. The ensembles remain meticulously reproduced - unchanged to the millimeter - with decorative implements, furniture and other objects still in exactly the same relationship to the Cezannes, Renoirs and Soutines. The two modest changes are the "insertions of two spaces into the galleries, one on each side, as if the ends of the galleries were sliced and pulled apart a bit. This is intended by the architects to both add a little "breathing space" to make the transition from small gallery room to small gallery room a bit less cramped, and to add some practical classroom space. On one side a large glassed-in garden rises through the building, open to the sky, that creates a place to pause surrounded by light and green. On the other side, each floor gets a classroom space, directly with the galleries. I must add that in keeping with the attention to detail in the building even the tables and chairs in the classrooms are gorgeous works of artisanal furniture.

The central court - Merion galleries through gates on the right.
Other examples of the remarkable attention to detail throughout include the carefully carved and textured Jerusalem stone that covers the exterior and a good part of the interior, the sound absorbing tapestry murals in the central court, the recycled Coney Island boardwalk wood in the flooring, and the shallow reflecting pool outside filled with polished black stones. Also of note is the new temporary exhibition area that is now devoted to a show on Dr. Barnes himself. Even though going through the entire Barnes collection itself can be a exhausting experience, when you visit do NOT miss the exhibit on Barnes, in the gallery to the left as you enter the central court. It fills a critical gap that was missing in the old site - context. It really helps you understand the man, his passions, his eccentricities, his sly sense of humor, his unerring eye for talent. I especially encourage you to read the witty rejection letters he sent to prospective visitors, usually in the guise of his dog, or a fictional assistant. My one quibble with the building would be that this gallery space is so discrete that I think many visitors inadvertently miss it.

Here are some links to the local and national coverage of the Barnes to date, not mostly  (but not all) positive, including many raves:

Barbara Smith, New York Times "A museum, reborn, remains true to its old self, only better."
Paul Goldberger, Vanity Fair "Soulful, self-assured, and filled with light."
Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker "Spectacular contemporary architecture...cradles the modest graces of the Merion structure with an air of religious veneration."
Ada Louise Huxtable, Wall Street Journal "The new Barnes shouldn't work...but does."
Christopher Hawthorne, Architectural Record and LA Times "Sober, handsome and exquisitely detailed...suffers from a distinct lack of soul..."
Karrie Jacobs, Metropolis "..a supremely confident, modern building..."
Linda Yablonsky, Artnet "Fabulosity in a box."
Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer "A ravishing building, cut off from the city..."
Ed Sozanski, Philadelphia Inquirer "Galleries shine at the new Barnes..."
Diana Lind, Architectural Record "...promises to further Philadelphia's identity as an artistic magnet."

And here is a link to information on WHYY's new documentary, The Barnes Collection that provides an alternative/complementary view to that provided by Art of the Steal. I also encourage those interested to explore the With Art website - a campaign to help visitors put the Barnes in the context of Philadelphia's other related rich cultural assets: visual arts, art education, horticulture, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the diversity of the City and its neighborhoods, shopping and food.

Now to respond directly to some of the criticism of the building:

"As long as they were moving the collection they should have done away entirely with Barnes's ensembles and exhibited the art in a fresh new way" - This was simply not possible, even if anybody had wanted to do so. The building and exhibition program was constrained by the legal (and ethical) need to make good on the promise to move the collection while being true to Barnes's vision and intent.

"The building is cold and austere" - Of course this is a matter of taste, but I find the building to have a Zen-like simplicity that is restful and perfectly attuned to the focus needed to experience the art, from the landscape outside to the materials and workmanship reflected in every nook and cranny of the building.

"The building turns its back on the Parkway" - I totally get the intent of Williams and Tsien (and Olin) and think it works: to create a bucolic setting for the building that sets it back from the Parkway in a garden. The pedestrian route to the entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue takes you through the landscaping around the building and across the reflecting pool. In that passageway you make a mental shift. You enter the building having metaphorically and literally left the cares of the urban setting behind you. I don't think the Parkway needs another grand Free Library or Franklin Institute-like colonnaded entrance. I think the building still makes a dramatic statement on the Parkway without having it's entrance on the Parkway.

"It is ugly to have the concrete wall of the parking lot visible from the entrance site." I think the poured concrete wall that masks the small parking lot from the building is actually a beautiful texture that marries well with other materials, and the wall is also covered with trellises and climbing plants that over time will soften the surface with green.

Finally, the building has wonderful ancillary spaces - meeting rooms, classrooms, library, auditorium, gift shop, cafe - that enhance the visitor experience, enhance learning, and allow the building to also serve as an important community resource. (I recently wrote about museum gift shops - including the Barnes, which had yet to open - here.)

Beyond kudos to the architects Williams and Tsien, we must also acknowledge landscape architects Olin: with their work on the Barnes now joining their work on the Rodin Museum site (which also just recently re-opened), the Art Museum sculpture garden and LeWitt garden installation, they have made an indelible, transformational imprint on the Parkway. Because light is so much a part of the success of the galleries at the Barnes, I must also congratulate lighting designers Fisher Marantz Stone. And you have to give credit to board and staff too - there are so many ways this project could have failed, and it took great dedication by board and staff to bring this to successful completion. Finally, I want to also give a nod to Pentagram design, for crafting the new look for the Museum - signage, logo, print materials, web site. I think it strikes the perfect balance between classic/classy and sleek/modern

If you have not yet been to the new building, I highly recommend you pay a visit. (More info on reserving tickets here.) If you opposed the move, I respect your position, but urge you to still go, and try to keep an open mind. The art is all still there, Barnes's aura still hangs over the place, the art and his views on art are now being experienced by so many more people. While we will never know, I, for one, like to think that Dr. Barnes is dancing with delight in his grave rather than turning over in disgust.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Arts & Culture Gift Shop Guide - America (Part 3)

My past two blog posts have surveyed, first, Philadelphia's arts and culture gifts shops, followed by New York City's cultural gift shops . Essentially I've been exploring museum gift shops, but I have also noted some gift shops at botanical gardens, zoos and other cultural venues. So now, in the third, and probably final, installment of this survey, I am going to cover a selection of shops across the country. This is not scientific - the list is drawn from museum and other cultural gift shops I have enjoyed visiting in the course of my travels. So if your favorite is not on this list, don't be offended - post a comment, and I will do my best to visit it if I am ever passing through that city/town.

Getty Center Museum and Getty Villa (Los Angeles and Malibu) - The Getty Center Museum in LA has an excellent gift shop, as well as an excellent online store. Because of their strong photography collection and exhibitions program, there are often good photography-based items (featured is a poster of a photo by Herb Ritts, now being highlighted in an exhibition). The Getty Villa in Malibu is also a must-visit location (by reservation only, so plan in advance), but it seems the Villa does not have a web site for its store, which is excellent (or at least was when I was last there). There is one Getty online store, but it seems to carry very few of the items related to the classical art collection at the Villa. Solve the problem by physically visiting BOTH sites, and both stores.

de Young Museum (San Francisco) - The de Young, in a spectacular hilltop park setting in San Francisco, dates back to the 19th Century, but their building is an arresting new building designed by the Swiss firm of Herzog and de Meuron, which opened in 2005. The shop is excellent and eclectic. The museum, for example, has an extensive contemporary collection, but also a very strong Oceanic and Pacific-Islander collection. They currently have a show of Anatolian Kilim rugs, the largest such collection outside Turkey, so I am highlighting a gift shop item connected to the show, a silk scarf based on a kilim pattern.

SFMoMA - In addition to the de Young, SFMoMA is another favorite of mine in San Francisco - both the museum and the gift shop. The gift shop has a strong web site, and, as always, is also worth an in-person visit. Because they now have an exhibition on Buckminster Fuller, who was a professor in residence for many years at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, I am highlighting a gift shop item which is a "Buckyball" kit. Can't resist the Philly connection!

Seattle Art Museum - Completing our tour of the West coast, SAM, as it is known, has a fantastic gift shop. Unfortunately, it really has no online presence at all (in general I have not really featured shops with no web site but I am making an exception here). It has the usual books, T-shirts and other products related directly to their collections and to their own branding. But there is an excellent collection of crafts, household objects, jewelry and kids items. So when you are in Seattle, don't miss the art at SAM, and don't miss their spectacular waterfront sculpture park; but also don't miss the gift shop!

Art Institute of Chicago - Now moving into the center of the country, the Art Institute is, of course, one of MANY "must visit" cultural venues in Chicago, and as expected of a museum of its scale and quality, also has a superb gift shop with a good online presence. Two of  their most iconic works of art are George Seurat's A Sunday on La Grand Jatte and (one of) Monet's Water Lillies, and as you can image, the shop is chock-a-block with products reproducing those images - on note cards, ties, umbrellas, totes, etc. Of course they have so many other products too. I am featuring an image of an umbrella based on the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Coonley Playhouse, the windows from which are in the Art Institute's collection. I happen to be a big fan of Wright's decorative arts designs. If you want a really full array of items, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation web site (they also have a great catalog, as well as an on-site gift shop at Taliesen West in Scottsdale AZ).

Milwaukee Art Museum - This museum is in a striking Santiago Calatrava designed building right on the waterfront. This new structure is actually an addition to the original building, also designed by a famous architect - Eero Saaranin. To be honest, I don't know how much of their gift shop selection is really directly related to their collection, but the shop is great nonetheless. I have to admit when I visited this shop I simply wanted to buy half the stock. Many, many, great items, for the home, jewelry, men's and women's accessories, children's stuff. Some of which is the same stuff you may see in other museum shops, but some of which is unique. The first place I spotted the women's clutches and purses made in Brazil from soda can pop-tops was in this shop, which I bought for my wife - now they seem to be everywhere. I also picked up a tie based on a Gee's Bend Quilt design. Here is a purse made from recycled seat belt webbing.

Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) - The Walker has a very appealing gift shop, with an excellent website. As you would imagine, given the adventurous nature of their programming, their gift shop is contemporary, wide-ranging, and very hip.  There is also a special "Made in Minnesota" section, as well as a new "mnartists" program that specifically promotes the work of local artists. Many gift shops seem to be beefing up their local and exclusive merchandise which I think is a great trend. We don't want museum gift shops to start looking liking the museum equivalent of Starbucks, with identical merchandise no matter where in the country you are. Featured is a set of pint glasses, each designed by a different local artist. Since I mentioned the Seattle Art Museum sculpture park, I should mention that the Walker also has a great sculpture park.

Guthrie Theatre (Minneapolis) - Their shop is small, and has no e-commerce on its web site, but I am including them as one of the rare instances of a performing arts institution with a gift shop, and a fine one at that. I actually found here a Karim Rashid watch that matched a Rashid-designed tie I had bought at another museum gift shop elsewhere in the country. They have textile products, for example, custom made by a designer from scraps from their costumes, as well as ceramics inspired by the architecture of their dramatic new building. And their building is VERY cool, with a dramatic elevated outdoor platform jutting out of the building that seems to defy gravity.

American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore) - Well, after visiting many museum gift shops, all of which CAN seem pretty similar after a while, no matter how good, stop in at the gift shop of the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Dedicated to the creations of untrained "outsider" artists, the collection of this museum is unique, and extraordinary, and the gift shop reflects that uniqueness. Their web site shares that quirky outsider aesthetic, but also really has no online store. Lots of images of a sampling of their great stuff, but no ability to buy online. The image is of an example of the works of "visionary" art that they have available for purchase in their store. Interestingly, Philly's famous "folk" artist, Isaiah Zagar, whose primitive-seeming mosaic tilework covers walls over South Philadelphia, including the entire building and grounds of Magic Gardens, and has become iconic, is not eligible for inclusion, because he is trained as an artist.

New Orleans Museum of Art - This is another "encyclopedic" museum, so the gift shop again reflects that breadth. They do regularly feature the work of different local artists. They do not have e-commerce or even much info about the shop on the web site, but I recall it as being a nice little shop, with many unique NOLA items. Also in New Orleans, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art encompasses in their shop the Center for Southern Craft and Design, with many beautiful items - wood, ceramic, glass, etc. And if you manage to get to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival (which just ended this past weekend), find your way to the extensive collection of local craft artists and artisans whose work is displayed and for sale. I just returned from JazzFest and can attest to the breadth and quality of the work. Here is a direct link to the craft area of their web site, to give you a sense of the artists and products. Pictured is a chair by Matthew Holdren of New Orleans, made from reclaimed materials.

MassMoCA - Ending with some highlights in the Northeast, MassMoCA is an amazing, unique cultural facility in North Adams Massachusetts in an old factory complex. Because of the scale of the spaces in the building, they can accommodate large scale installations, often site-specific, of work that would be difficult to do anywhere else. They have a massive Sol LeWitt installation that will be up for another twenty years or so, so I thought I would feature this platter, based on LeWitt's classic recurring line and color pattern. And if you want to see LeWitt's design executed in flowering plants, visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art's newest temporary Sol LeWitt installation, which is "drawn" in flowers and plants in Fairmount Park right behind the museum. Read more about it here.

Museum of Fine Arts Boston - I must include MFA Boston, because like NY's Met and MoMA, they have created quite the museum gift shop empire. They have a great, very large shop (actually several) as well as a robust web site, and a catalog operation. There does not seem to be any real focus on local artists and crafts. This is mostly a place for reproductions of designs/images of Degas, Monet, Hopper, etc. Some special focus on Boston themes. So if you know some aspiring ballerina who just MUST have a reproduction of Degas's famous La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans then this is your place. Lots of beautiful jewelry, but not clear how much of it really has a direct connection to the collection.

DepARTure (Albany, NY) - They have no web site, but I am including them anyway, because I think this is a model that should be rolled out across the entire nation, and can't figure out why it has not taken off. DepARTure is the name of a gift shop in the Albany, NY airport, operated by the airport authority and featuring products from the "Museums of the Capital Region" - basically all the museums from which the Albany Airport would be the gateway for air travel. This includes the Adirondack Museum, the Albany Institute of Art, the Hyde Collection, and MassMoCA. It is a beautiful little shop that brings to airport visitors the opportunity to purchase meaningful gifts, not just the usual airport souvenirs, and also helps promote and generate some revenue for area cultural attractions. I should also note (which is why I also highlighted it) that the Adirondack Museum also has its own great gift shop at its beautiful complex in Blue Mountain Lake, NY, as well as a good e-store. Featured is a one-of-a-kind miniature reproduction of a classic late-19th C. birch bark and split twig clock.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Arts and Culture Gift Shop Guide (continued): New York City

After getting started with a survey of notable cultural/museum gift shops in Philadelphia last week, I am continuing the tour with a survey of my favorite shops in New York, where I spent so much time in my career (not to mention money in museum gift shops!). This list is in no particular order. I will admit, have been been back only irregularly for the past four years, so apologies if something is out of date. Feel free to post comments with suggested corrections/additions and I will do my best to update.

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art's gift shop is really a suite of shops. There is the MoMA Design and Book Store at street level at the museum, and there is a bookstore in the museum. Across the street from the museum is the larger MoMA Design Store that features the Muji "store within a store."  There is also a SoHo store in NYC and a Tokyo store. I happen to be a HUGE fan of MoMA's design store. An incredible assortment of the best of both contemporary and classic design. From Philippe Starck's classic "Louis Ghost" Louis XV style armchair in clear plastic, to the classic 1948 George Nelson wall clock, to fantastic kid's toy's, to unique (and in many cases exclusive) artist-designed jewelry and watches. They are now featuring for a limited time an array of new Mexican designs (featured photo - the Pirueta table). MoMA also has an excellent catalog as well as perhaps one of the most extensive websites.

Metropolitan Museum - perhaps the Grandaddy (or Grand Dame) of the museum gift shop world, the Met Museum shop is also huge, with many satellites throughout the building, as well as a major catalog and web site operation (they used to have shops around the country, including in some airports - don't know if they still do). As an encyclopedic museum, the Met's gift shop is reflective of that focus, and has "something for everyone."  Lots of jewelry based on works from the collection covering many eras and many parts of the worked, as well as a large collection of high quality reproductions of sculptures from the collection. Can't resist including as an illustration a copy of Rodin's "The Thinker" given my current proximity to the Rodin Museum in Philly, where the largest collections of Rodin's outside of Paris is on display (sorry Met...).  If you are not sure of someone's taste - contemporary or Rococo? - then the Met is good bet for you. If you are not sure of your own taste, then I can't help you...

Museum of Art and Design - Formerly located across the street from MoMA on West 53rd Street, and formerly known as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and then the American Craft Museum, "MAD" as it is now known, has a still-pretty-spanking-new home on Columbus Circle (At the former Edward Durell Stone-designed site of the Huntington Hartford Museum which for a time was also home to the City's Department of Cultural Affairs, and the subject of a fairly protracted preservation debate about the value of the Barnes building. While the basic shell of the structure was preserved, it has been radically transformed - for the better I would argue. The new gift shop has a relatively small but very high quality collection of products, which spans both contemporary design (some cross-over with MoMA) and craft. Many glass, ceramic and wood pieces. Pictured here - a plate set called "Seconds" by Jason Miller. I recently picked up a set of Chilewich woven placemats here. As an example of how much more limited the selection usually is on-line - they are not featured on the website.

Wave Hill - This is one of my favorite spots in New York City, a beautiful unique garden, with two historic mansions that are used for programming, situated in the Riverdale area of the Bronx with sweeping view of the Hudson River and the Palisades. The shop has a small but great selection of garden-themed items. Unfortunately, no online shop. So painful - you will to go there... If you have kids (or can borrow some) go for the Family Art Project on Saturdays and Sundays from 10-1. There is also a lovely cafe with an outdoor seating are featuring sweeping view of the river, where you can sit and sip an espresso while congratulating yourself on your brilliant purchases at the shop.

New York Botanical Garden - Contrary to the Wave Hill garden shop, which is a small boutique, the NYBG shop is the equivalent of a department store. The Garden is similarly huge, with its famous Conservatory, as well as acres of wild forest trails. (The orchid show is epic, with a connected orchid sale in the shop.) A huge shop more akin to the Longwood Gardens shop in the Philly area. Here you are sure to find the gift for the gardener in your life. Also, like many garden shops (including Longwood, Wave Hill and Brooklyn Botanic Gardens) you can buy living objects as well - plant specimens, orchids, bulbs, etc.  NYBG has an extensive online store. Brooklyn Botanic Garden also has an extensive physical shop, as well as an online shop. I am more familiar with the NYBG shop, but that is no knock on Brooklyn. BBG is especially known for its Rose Garden and Cherry Blossoms.

Queens Museum of Art - The Queens Museum's gift shop reflects the idiosyncratic nature of the collections and exhibitions here. As one of the remaining structures from the 1939 World's Fair - the New York City pavilion, the museum has a great collection of World's Fair ephemera (from both 1964 and 1939). The museum also has the New York City Panorama - a scale model three dimensional reproduction of ALL of New York, with every building, street and bridge modeled to scale. And then, it also has some of New York's most adventurous contemporary art exhibitions, with a special focus (of course) on Queens artists and history. I know it's not a gift shop item, but I can't resist sharing a shot of the Panorama.

Brooklyn Museum - Like the Met Museum, the Brooklyn Museum is an encyclopedic museum, with collections ranging from a renowned Egyptian collection to the current special exhibition of the work of Keith Haring. And the gift shop is a reflection of that wide range, with a special emphasis on the "local" - Brooklyn themes and and artists/designers. Featured image -a doorstop or bookend which is a case resin and marble reproduction of a vintage 70's roller-skate, by Brooklyn artist Harry Allen. A cool aspect of their site - large assortment of "Art on Demand" prints, custom printed in an assortment of sizes when you order.

Children's Museum of Manhattan (CMoM) - The space, on the upper west side of Manhattan, is somewhat cramped, and the store is somewhat reflective of that. Still, a great assortment of kid's gifts. There is a web store, but it is pretty primitive. And if we are mentioning CMoM, on the children's museum front, I should also mention Brooklyn Children's Museum (on-site store, but no web store). While it is not a children's institution by any stretch, and it has a shop with a wide array of items related to its natural history and science mission, I must include the American Museum of Natural History in this same category, if only because my childhood was filled with so many trips to the museum, to see the permanent exhibits, the dinosaurs, the great whale, the dioramas, AND always a stop at the wonderful gift shop for a toy, a treat, an "educational" item that was also fun. Of course, there is also jewelry, objects for the home, and apparel for adults. BUT gotta feature this cool remote-controlled flying shark from AMNH.

Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum - Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Cooper-Hewitt has a wonderful shop. Small-ish on-site (they have some space limitations) but with a great, cleanly designed web site featuring a large collection of items, many whimsical and unique to the Cooper Hewitt. Photo is of a Japanese bamboo steamer basket sourced by Alisa Grifo of the SoHo shop Kiosk. One of the nice things about the shop and website - lots of background on sources.

Jewish Museum - As you might expect, the Jewish Museum has an extraordinary Judaica collection. If you want a show-stopping menorah, mezuzah or Seder plate, that can bring great beauty to your Jewish ceremonies, this is your shop. By the Jewish Museum IS an art museum, and the gift shop is much broader than Judaica with much jewelry, objects of the home, art reproductions, etc. For example, there are objects in the shop from the current exhibition of the work of Kehinde Wiley, whose work explores people of diverse ethnicities and religions in Israel. Here is a Wiley-designed skateboard deck.

Guggenheim Museum - Their shop is another one of my favorites. It features work inspired by their collections and temporary exhibitions, as well as inspired by their famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. As you would expect from an institution of this stature, the web shop is quite robust and east to navigate. Pictured is a unique cuff bracelet inspired the signature rotunda of the building.

Whitney Museum - Can't talk about MoMA and the Guggenheim, and not mention the Whitney. The Whitney also has a great store, and a good selection on their Web site. For whatever reason, though, I have to admit their shop has never resonated quite as much with me. I will highlight this book however, because my daughter Esme got this book as a gift when she was born, and she absolutely loved the images - especially Damien Hirst's "dots". 

American Folk Art Museum  - Though the American Folk Art Museum sadly recently lost their building on West 53rd Street (designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien who also designed the new Barnes on the Parkway in Philadelphia), which was sold to the Museum of Modern Art, they still exist in their second space on Columbus Avenue right across from Lincoln Center. That site has a lovely little gift shop with a great assortment of folk-art-centric items. 

El Museo del Barrio - Mentioning it because it is a nice little shop, and very targeted in its focus, as is the museum. However, there is no online store.

Studio Museum in Harlem - Also a very small, very targeted shop. Somewhat more of an online presence than El Museo, but still requires a trip to really see the full selection. And you should be visiting in person anyway!

Neue Galerie - I LOVE this shop, probably because I also love the museum, which is a relatively new, highly specialized boutique museum founded by Ronald Lauder and Serge Sabarsky with a focus on early 20th C. German and Austrian art and design. If you love the work of Klimt, Schiele and Josef Hoffman and their ilk, you will love this place, and you will love the shop. There is a great online shop, as well as a physical shop. Only challenge, the reproduction household and decorative objects and jewelry, which are exquisite, are also very pricey. And if you REALLY want to immerse yourself in the ambiance of this era, take in the cabaret series at Cafe Sabarsky.

Another specialized "niche" museum like Neue Galerie, with a focus on Himalayan art is the Rubin Museum of Art. The Rubin also has a great little gift shop, which has apparently just been "re-branded" and combined with their dining operation as "Serai". There is currently no online store. Also like Neue Galerie they have created a great cafe and line-up of evening programming - a chance to see the art, maybe hear some music, have a drink and some food, AND check out the shop.

Used to love the shop of the Dahesh Museum, when it was on Madison Avenue in the old IBM Gallery space, but it is gone; their restaurant on the second floor was also a hidden gem. HOWEVER, the online shop still exists, and a new physical location is planned soon for Hudson Square in Manhattan. 

I was going to include the Lincoln Center gift shop, that used to be in the Concourse level under the plaza, but can't find any mention of it online, and have not been there in a few years, so perhaps it has closed.  It is too bad, because while museum gift shops abound, performing arts gift shops are very hard to come by. In Philadelphia, the Kimmel Center closed their shop not long ago and is replacing it with a restaurant. The Juilliard School, however, does have a great gift shop, so I am giving them a shout-out and including them here. The stock is mostly  the usual college name emblazoned hoodies, t-shirts, mugs, etc., but also some performing arts-themed gifts, as well as sheet music.

Next up on the tour, a highly personal tour of similar shops around the country, based purely on where I have happened to visit over the past few years.

Monday, April 23, 2012

UPDATED: A Guide to Arts and Culture Gift Shops in Philadelphia (Museum Shops and Beyond!)

Note: This was originally posted about six months ago, and with the holiday season upon us, I figured it was time to update and repost! The tourism web site UWISHUNU (from the Greater Philadelpia Tourism Marketing Corporation) has also recently published its guide to Philadelphia Museum gift shops, which is available here. Happy shopping!

I have been a huge fan of museum and other arts organization gift shops for years. My work has given me the opportunity to explore lots of organizations, in NY, Philadelphia, and to some extent all across the country. Some are well known - others are hidden gems. The best ones have excellent buyers that find products relevant to the exhibitions, collections or presentations of the institution, but also stock unique artisinal creations by artists, craftspeople and designers that have a sense of place or direct connection to the organization's artistic focus. I am not talking about t-shirts and other logo-emblazoned merchandise, or touristy "tchotchkes" - but sources of high-quality, interesting, beautiful products that make great gifts or personal treats.

So here is my informal survey - apologies in advance for anyone left out. I have not been everywhere, and as noted this is not a journalistic comprehensive survey, but idiosyncratic. My hope is that readers can comment and share their own ideas. Maybe over time this can grow into a useful guide - perhaps a blog or website of its own. I know the logical thing to do would be to post this at the start of "holiday" season, and perhaps I will re-post in the fall after some further refinement and "input."

Except where noted all of the gift shops I am highlighting have web presences, and the links are specifically to the website of the store. But from my experience, most museum store websites are a shadow of the store itself. Merchandise is simply too frequently changing, and sometimes too extensive, to allow the web site to encompass all the goodies. Where possible, visit in person. I also encourage exploring the many smaller gift shops that don't have web sites, but because this blog is web-based I have used the availability of a web link as a criteria for inclusion.

I am starting with my current home for the past several years, Philadelphia, which just by itself is quite an impressive collection. I also have written two other installemnts - about New York City museum/arts gift shops, followed by the rest of the country.


 Philadelphia Museum of Art - PMA has an excellent gift shop (or more accurately, shops), and last year also added a "Philadelphia Produces Original Design" pop-up shop exclusively highlighting local artists. In the main building you will find the large main gift shop, a smaller Annex shop featuring more jewelry and textiles/clothing, a "balcony" shop featuring steeply discounted items, and across the street in the Perelman building is a smaller more design-oriented shop. In addition there are usually specialty shops featuring merchandise thematically linked to whatever the current major exhibition is. A current highlight in the gift shop is a large selection of vintage Russel Wright ceramic ware.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts - has a really lovely gift shop - "Portfolio" - which has the advantage of being very accessible just north of City hall on Broad Street, located in their newer Hamilton Building.  There is also a new-ish Alumni Gallery in the original Furness building that features the work of PAFA alums that is for sale. An example of a PAFA exclusive: men's ties based on the famous Tiffany-Parish "Dream Garden" mosaic mural. Also, of note: "banner bags" made from recycled advertising banners from the Center City District, laundered and made into bags by a program of the Department of Corrections and another vocational program.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum - also has a great shop, not surprisingly drawing on their leadership as a textile-based institution. Another special strength of the shop is limited edition artist multiples created by artists-in-residence. Love this "Dash" tote bag by the artist Jun Kaneko, who has designed productions for the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and whose large-scale sculpture has been exhibited in the City Hall courtyard and elsewhere around town.

AIA - located conveniently  right next store to the Fabric Workshop is the headquarters of the American Institute of Architect's Philadelphia chapter, and they have a great shop ("Bookstore + Design Center") that has a special emphasis on architecture and design. Great design-oriented toys for kids, especially little budding architects and designers. Plus they carry the Philadelphia city map tie that I love and often wear (though I got it at the gift shop of the National Building Museum in Washington DC).

Print Center - a great entry point for art collecting is the world of prints and "multiples" - art produced in a limited edition. The Print Center's print store, at the back of their gallery, is a great place to explore the world of print collecting, across a wide range of prices, including much affordable work. They also stock books and other gift items.

Clay Studio - Their shop adjoins their art gallery space in their building in the heart of Old City. A very popular First Friday destination. The gift shop includes everything from fairly pricey works of collectible ceramic art, to lower proceed mugs, plates, tiles and other great works of functional ceramic art.

Center for Art in Wood - A new addition to the great Philly arts org gift shop world, this is the new name of the Wood Turning Center, and their new home in Old City, right near the Clay Studio, is exquisite. Anyone going in thinking they will see some pedestrian wooden bowls is in for a delightful surprise. This is truly art that happens to use the medium of art, carving, lathe-work, etc. as its medium. The space includes a large gallery/museum space, and an adjoining store, similar to the Clay Studio. For anyone working in the medium of wood, the shop offers books, tools and other resources, but it also a wide array of works of art in wood, from small and modestly price, to true works of art with prices to match. the website really only scratches the surface.

The Art Shop at Moore College of Art & DesignThe Art Shop is a venue for Moore alumnae and students to sell their creations to the public. Artists are current students getting their feet wet in the business of art, emerging alumnae trying to make a name for themselves in Philadelphia, and seasoned alumnae who have been working their entire careers as artists. Pictured here is a silk tunic designed and printed by Harshita Lohia ('02). You can browse our online store, but as with most of the other shops cited here, if you’re in Philadelphia, you should visit the shop (which is at Moore College of Art & Design, on 20th St and the Parkway)!

National Museum of American Jewish History - Another relatively new addition, the gift shop of NAMJH has become the premiere Judaica shop in the region, as far as I know. Need an exquisite artist designed mezuzah, seder plate or menorah? This is your place. They also carry jewelry, books, children's items, etc. (There is also a small Judaica section in PMA's gift shop.)

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology  - The museum itself is too often noted, with justification, as one of Philadelphia's best kept secrets. Considered to be perhaps the second most important museum of its kind in the world, behind the British Museum, it has a gift ship that focuses on its collections of Egyptian, Classical, African, Mesoamerican, Mesoptamia, the Silk Road, and other cultures from around the world. From the current Maya show, can't resist sharing this image of a terra cotta statue of a Mayan princess, available at the shop. Hopefully the world will not come to an end this December!

And the newest addition of note is The Barnes Foundation which has a relatively small but great gift shop at the Barnes on the Parkway (downstairs), and also has a great shop on its web site. Find everything from prints, posters and books, to jewelry and other objects inspired by the collection. Even some of the distinctive metalwork displayed with the art is available in reproduction at the shop. Pictured is a mug featuring a reproduction of a Barnes sketch of one of his famous "ensembles."

Institutions with gift shops of varying degrees of extensiveness but WITHOUT any real web access, include Please Touch children's museum (large, wonderful, children's toy and book resource but nothing online), Taller Puertorriqueno, African American Museum and Woodmere Art Museum. If you are into animals, the Philadelphia Zoo has a great shop - not so extensive online. So don't forget about museums whose gift shops are not yet online. As I noted in my intro, these shops are really best perused in person anyway.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Philadelphia is also home to many art/craft shows fairs that are great opportunities to find wonderful gifts, objects for your home, art for your walls, etc. None of these resources are available online - you need to go to the shows to see and buy the work. This includes

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show - Presented every year by the Women's Committee and Craft Show Committee of PMA to benefit the Museum, this show takes place in the fall at the Convention Center. This year it will be held November 8-12, 2012. In 2011 1,300 artists applied to be exhibited and 195 were selected. The quality is extremely high - this is truly craft that rises to the level of art.

Art Star Craft Bazaar - This is show that is organized by the Art Star art/fine craft store in Northern Liberties (which is open all year and is itself a great destination for mostly locally-produced artist-designed and made products). The next show is Saturday, May 12th & Sunday, May 13th, 11-6pm, at The Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, where 140 artists will be showing.

Art for the Cash Poor - An annual event organized by the nonprofit organization InLiquid, held at the Crane Arts Building, that makes a wide array of fine and functional art and craft available for purchase at very affordable prices. The next event takes place on June 9th and 10th, from Noon to 6. The event is block-party style, with refreshments, music, and is very family-friendly. It also uses the outdoor space at Crane as well.

Philadelphia Art Alliance - This venerable Rittenhouse Square institution has recently enhanced its focus on fine craft. Many of their shows involve work for sale, and they periodically have special shows of "wearable art" and jewelry. Unfortunately, they don't really appear to have a web-based shop. Their "Shop on the Square" benefit shop/sale unfortunately just ended (12/3-9 - keep it in mind for next year!)

For the scientifically inclined, we have The Franklin Institute, with great science-themed gifts, including a wonderful selection for children. And right nearby there is the Academy of Natural Sciences, now part of Drexel University, which also has a gift shop, though not a web component.

For you gardeners, Morris Arboretum has a nice gift shop, though it does not have web sales, and if we extend out to the region, Longwood Gardens has a very large, well-stocked gift shop, including periodic plant sales (as does Morris Arboretum) though you would not know it from the web site, which has a very limited selection. The annual Philadelphia Flower Show, of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society incorporates an extensive marketplace of vendors and gifts, some of which are linked to whatever the show's theme is that year. They do have an online giftshop so you don't have to wait until next year to do your Flower Show shopping. They also have a special "pop-up" holiday gift shop in Chestnut Hill open through 12/23!

Doing your holiday shopping from museum giftshops and local stores/fairs that feature the work of local artisans and artists is one of the best ways you can "do well by doing good" - support your local arts groups and artists AND give gifts that are truly unique and creative.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia Finalists Announced

The Knight Foundation today announced the 55 finalists in the Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia. These applications were chosen from the 1,267 application submitted. The ideas cover a huge range, and were submitted by arts organizations of all disciplines and sizes, as well as by many individual artists and creative business-people.

Collectively the ideas represent a great expression of the creative energy and entrepreneurial spirit in Philadelphia. With I think maybe one exception (Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra?), this is a totally new group of organizations and individuals from those selected last year. Would love to see ALL these projects happen, but each of these finalists now goes to the next round where they must submit a full proposal. If last year is a guide, roughly half of these projects will actually be funded.

The group ranges from pretty large scale - the Janet Echelman public art piece that will be integrated into the new Dilworth Plaza design - to an individual who proposes to create a micro-grant program for artists, to projects targeting such immigrant populations as Lao, Liberian and Latino.

You can access the full list of finalists here. Congratulations to all of them!