In recent years, museum gift shops’ artsy t-shirts, mugs and scarves have been greeted with a diminishing sense of enthusiasm. However, more progressive art organizations like the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis and the New Museum in New York have started to reinvent the role of their gift stores. At Arts & Labour, we say it’s about time.
In the recent New York Times article “For the Walker Art Center, a Shop That Peddles Evanescence,” Melena Ryzik examines the changing responsibility of artists and museum shops. A new conceptual art pop-up store at the Walker aims to change the traditional notion of the gift shop. As Emmet Byrne, the Walker’s Museum’s design director explains, “it’s more about a digital bazaar with pieces priced to sell, an exhibition of sorts, with curated original artworks”. Michele Tobin, the gift shop’s retail director explains further, “the priority isn’t ‘get as much as you can’ for that item in the marketplace.”
This is great news. Many so-called cultural brands like museums and art institutes have been lagging behind commercial brands like Converse, H&M and Evian among many others who’ve been redefining the meaning of products and art much faster than most art organizations. With their innovative art integration, they’ve become effective in creating a new breed of merchandise widely recognized as artist collaborations or ‘art collabs’. Blurring boundaries between art and commerce, the French fashion house Louis Vuitton has become one of the front-runners in this movement and have quite imaginatively diminished the divide between art and merchandise. The unprecedented popularity of their sold-out collaborations with avant-garde artists like Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama have spoken for themselves.
In contrast, the majority of museums have only managed to widen the gap. By somehow turning desirable art into undesirable merchandise, they’ve turned their gift shops into uninspiring souvenir outlets. But while they’ve languished, successful commercial brands, thriving on being seen as innovative and relevant, have been savvy enough to stay ahead of the mainstream curve. By staying connected to groundbreaking designers, artists, creative directors, writers and photographers, they’ve been able to capture the ‘next big things’ and have stayed engaged in the necessary cultural and social dialogue that translates into greater popularity and greater revenues for their brands.
In our next post we’ll report back from the Venice Biennale, highlighting the latest in art fusion. See you then.