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 I will admit, have been been back only irregularly for the past four years, so apologies if something is out of date.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

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