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 I will admit, have been been back only irregularly for the past four years, so apologies if something is out of date.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.