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.


  1. Hi Gary, I love these posts! Tip: I just heard from a staffer at the Barnes that their gift shop is amazing -- better than or on par with the best...

  2. Thanks Roberta! Yes, I heard the same thing about the Barnes. Actually someone from the Barnes posted a comment to that effect on my first Philly entry of this trilogy. The shop's website alone is already a vast improvement over the old one. Looking forward to experiencing the new Barnes on the Parkway in person, including the gift shop!

  3. Just realized I forgot the Mingei Museum in San Diego - they have a fantastic gift shop with an emphasis on folk art, their artistic focus. If you are in San Diego, don't miss the Mingei, and leave time (and money) for the gift shop! (I am sure I will be continually adding to this list.)