Courtesy Institute for Contemporary Art
Published February 10, 2014
As shops get custom-designed products that echo blockbuster exhibits, they are becoming destinations in their own right and drawing locals who are looking for unique gifts or housewares.
With curated collections sometimes as intriguing as the museums themselves, these five museum stores are worth going out of your way to visit.
Institute for Contemporary Art
When the current director of retail, Richard Gregg, was hired from an art book publisher, he turned the already well known store into a design mecca.
Within the store, an extensive collection of books includes catalogs from major contemporary art exhibitions from major museums around the world.
The new menswear section, one of the most popular in the store, features exclusive items such as a set of four bandannas based on Barry McGee’s graffiti-inspired pop art that went on to be featured in The Wall Street Journal.
Products big and small, from greeting cards to chocolate from Boston area-based Tazo to contemporary design jewelry, are sourced domestically from local or regional artisanal producers whenever possible.
Craft and Folk Art Museum
Some visitors have been coming to L.A.’s Craft and Folk Art Museum ever since it first opened in the late 1960s. While the museum’s collection reflects the founder’s international travels and explorations of global folk art, the store also focuses on contemporary handmade crafts.
As the museum has no permanent collection, the store works with the artists featured in museum exhibits to create smaller or more affordable versions of the pieces displayed, including many three-dimensional works.
Jewelry is a main focus and a big draw for locals, as the museum often commissions pieces from exhibiting artists who don’t typically show or offer jewelry with their art. The book section highlights hard-to-find self-published volumes by artists.
In four stores totaling nearly 5,000 square feet, the Newseum offers more than 12,000 products relating to exhibits, popular culture and journalism in general.
But don’t expect framed newspapers and guides to becoming a journalist. The museum takes a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach. Every week, new T-shirts based on the latest Internet memes are introduced alongside perennial favorites “Trust Me, I’m a Reporter” and “Will Write for Food.”
Tying into “Anchorman: The Exhibit,” the stores will be featuring T-shirts with “Anchorman” one-liners alongside “sex panther” cologne in a box that growls when you open it and the top-selling “scotchy scotch scotch” scotch glass.
Exclusive books such as “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” which includes every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, are produced in house to reflect the 10 major exhibits each year.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kansas City, Missouri
The Nelson-Atkins is an encyclopedic museum, and its gift shop mirrors the variety you’ll find on the exhibit walls. At any point in time, the store selection reflects both the expansive permanent collection and the 12 to 14 exhibits that come through each year.
The museum is well known for its Asian art focus, which you’ll find echoed in the tea sets, calligraphy brushes and Chinese figurines across from exhibit-centered products, such as sterling silver jewelry and Arizona folk art brought in for the recent Frida Kahlo show.
In the book section, covering the entire back wall, tomes on nearly every piece of Chinese art and Japanese sculpture on view rest beside a children’s collection large enough to inspire young artists for decades. Many products are also aimed at children, notably the Buddha Board, a sort of paintable canvas Etch-a-Sketch.
Wexner Center for the Arts
Located within the largest college campus in the United States, the museum store at the Wexner Center for the Arts has a wide audience to satisfy in just 2,000 square feet.
Bigger ticket items, from Alessi and Herman Miller furniture to high-end jewelry to molecular gastronomy kits, jostle with locally made buttons decorated with book cutouts, architectural alphabet blocks and CDs featuring artists playing in the galleries.
You won’t find anything pre-World War II on the shelves or in the exhibits, but as the museum has no permanent collection, the products range from midcentury modern to the newest design creations.
More than half the store showcases books on art and artists, architecture, film, performing arts, music, fashion design and even comics, a nod to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum across the street.