Love visiting museums? Love to shop, too? You’d think that it would be really easy to combine these two delightful pastimes. But sadly, in many cases the iconic art museums of the world are sadly lacking when it comes to compelling retail stores and interesting merchandise for sale. For those who are inclined to imbibe deeply from the cups of both culture and commerce, our intrepid correspondent Jillian Tangen has tracked down the best museum gift shops in the world.
are there any good retail stores in the world’s great art and design museums?
Here at Dandelion Chandelier, we love visiting museums. We also love shopping at retail – yes, we’re totally old-school when it comes to the mall and the great shopping streets of the world, and we’re not ashamed to admit it.
So we wondered: why is it so hard to combine two of our very favorite things? You’d think it would be really easy, given that the visual arts and retail share so many common elements. We go to both looking for beauty, whimsy, adventure, discovery and delight.
Yet how many times have you found yourself in a lackluster gift shop after you just finished viewing an amazing art exhibition? More often than not, there’s a gift shop at the exit of every major exhibition these days. And more often than not, there’s never anything smart, fresh or elegant for sale.
Sometimes even the most esteemed art institutions have disappointing museum shops (yes, we’re looking at you Metropolitan Museum of Art). They’re filled with refrigerator magnets, postcards, logo tees and the like. While we still love visiting those museums, we wonder why they can’t up their game.
Thankfully, however, museum gift shops are experiencing a bit of a renaissance. We found ten museums that feature both eye-catching design-driven pieces for which to shop and esteemed collections to view.
Which means that you can get your shop on while experiencing a serious dose of culture, too. And the museum gets some much-needed revenue from a new source. Win-win-win!
The Best Museum Gift Shops in the World
From handcrafted jewelry and iconic furniture pieces to one-of-a-kind works by the artists featured inside the museums themselves, these top art and design museums have retail stores that are worth a visit on their own. And most provide courtesy discounts with a museum membership.
1. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The Museum of Modern Art’s Design Store (with three New York City locations) goes well beyond your typical mug and T-shirt souvenir shopping. The store houses a tightly-curated selection of jewelry, home decor, toys, electronics, textiles and even furniture. The merchandise selection is filled with items that are beautifully and cleverly designed. That’s because every product in the store has to be rigorously vetted by the museum’s curatorial team. So everything on offer is top-notch.
Our picks on a recent visit included the always-classic New York Yankees Hat ($48). A very comfortable Eames lounge chair and ottoman (starting at $5,495). And an on-trend KAWS BBF in blue ($280). We also love their vast selection of wonderful kids’ gifts. Many of them would surely be stand-outs among the throngs of more pedestrian birthday presents at your next party. My girls adored the Art Making with MoMa Kit ($20), which taught them how to channel their inner Jackson Pollack.
2. Cooper Hewitt | Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.
It only makes sense that the retail arm of an institution dedicated to historic and contemporary design is a shopping wonderland.
At the Cooper Hewitt | Smithsonian Design Museum you will find sometimes strange but always brilliantly conceptualized objects. Like a wall light that looks like a simple kitchen towel ($290), a foldable Fend bike helmet that you can tuck away into your bag ($99) or a beautiful collection of porcelain platters and dishware made with rain ($280).
3. Craft & Folk Museum, Los Angeles.
In 1965, Edith and Frank Wyle opened The Egg & The Eye, an omelette parlor on Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile. In addition to serving up eggs, the couple sold folk art they’d collected over the course of their travels. The gallery-café later gave birth to a museum in 1975. It’s modern-day store, the Craft Contemporary Shop, now stocks a wide variety of handmade and fair trade items that exude a California cool vibe.
Our faves include hand-painted cotton rope necklaces from Tanya Aguiniga Jewelry ($260). An adorable hiker mouse with a tent ($70) for little ones (or big ones with a sense of whimsy). And a beautiful marbled coaster and serving tray set ($88) made from birchwood.
4. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
The MOCA Store at the Museum of Contemporary Art specializes in products (books, clothing, stationery and other goods) from the contemporary art world. It stocks bright, colorful and fun pop culture keepsakes.
Items that caught our eye include a simple set of Warhol-inspired socks ($64). We’d also love to leave with one of Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dogs ($11,000). Other cool items include Art is for Everyone buttons ($2); the colorful collection of Candylab cars ($48) and Peter Shire ACME Waterworks’ Earrings ($125).
5. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen.
Located on the shores of the Øresund (the strait separating Denmark from Sweden), the Louisiana Butik at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen offers a well-edited selection of the best in Scandinavian design that complements its collection of modern art and sculptures.
Classic icons like Arne Jacobsen’s 7 Series Chairs share the floor with colorful ceramics from Studio Arhoj. The offerings aren’t all from the Nordics, though. Also available are minimalist serving utensils from Japan and leather shopping bags from Spain.
6. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
Stockholm’s museum of modern art, Moderna Museet, houses 20th- and 21st-century art, including a photography collection that dates to 1840. Its Moderna Museet Shop sells a wide variety of design-related items including interior decor, postcards and posters, over 3,000 books, catalogs and bespoke literature and products related to its exhibitions.
Some of our favorite finds are gin bottle shaped French glass filled enameled cufflinks ($35), these hand printed salt and pepper shakers, aptly named Salvador & Pablo ($25) from Stockholm based graphic artist Ingela Arrhenius and a starter drafting set ($41) to help you channel your inner artist. You will also find lots of colorful toys for kids here like this beautiful rainbow puzzle ($100) to help kids unleash their inner creativity.
7. Victoria & Albert, London.
The V&A Shop is a mega-space of art, design, housewares and jewelry that draws inspiration from the history of decorative arts. And since the V&A has 2.3 million objects within it, there’s a lot from which to draw inspiration.
You’ll find coffee table book companions to the museum’s exhibitions, like Dior Designer of Dreams. Plus a selection of modern, photographic and landscape prints. The shop also has its own clothing and accessory line designed in-house using patterns derived from mid-century British textiles. We love this flowing purple checked dress ($200), created with Indian block printing. And a yellow seagrass bag by Maison Bengal ($50). Other items, like a Sweetheart birdhouse by Miho Unexpected ($60) and a set of Love patches ($40) exhibit quintessential British quirkiness.
8. Royal Academy of Arts
A passionate Dandelion Chandelier reader turned us on to the wonderful gift shop at the Royal Academy of Arts in Mayfair in London. The Academy receives no public funding, so the shop is an important revenue source for the institution. You’ll find many unique and limited-edition offerings that reflect current exhibits at the museum; that champion emerging designers; and that feature the work of Royal Academicians.
You’ll find a wide array of whimsical design-driven items. Everything from art works to design books to home decor. On our list? ‘Mr. Darcy’ rectangular cufflinks (£38) by Roderick Vere with silver plated brass findings. The Barbara Rae Arctic Scarf (£49), which reflects the artist’s body of evocative work in response to the relationship between people and the frozen landscape in Greenland. And Michael Craig-Martin’s ‘Violin Plates,‘ (£360) adapted from the design he was invited to create for Glyndebourne’s 2013 opera program.
9. Musée National Picasso, Paris.
The Musée National Picasso-Paris always had a museum gift shop offering books and items with a Picasso theme. But in 2015, it opened a second boutique that is more like a Picasso concept store than traditional gift shop. While you will always find standard Picasso-related paraphernalia, you can also find products from emerging designers and exclusive art and design pieces for serious collectors.
Covetable items at the Musée National Picasso Paris Boutique include hand-painted mugs and bowls from Portugal, tea towels made in France and pillows embroidered with Picasso’s art by an atelier in the south of France. The children’s section includes everything from English language books on Picasso and Paris to handmade paper mobiles from Denmark to keep your little ones inspired.
10. National Gallery, Singapore.
In addition to the world’s largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art, at Singapore’s National Gallery you will find the shiny Gallery & Co. Shop.
On top of exhibition catalogs and postcards of artworks, visitors can expect unique keepsakes, such as umbrellas ($30) and soaps ($14) inspired by notable pieces of art on display and from the museum itself. Other fun finds include a little artist umbrella ($29.90) and a whimsical cotton silk scarf ($149) perfect for chilly days and travel.
11. Miho Museum, Kyoto.
Housed in an I. M. Pei–designed building and tucked among pine-covered hills southeast of Kyoto, the Miho Museum reflects the vision of its founder. The late Mihoko Koyama was a Japanese spiritual leader.
And like the museum itself, the Miho Museum Shops (3 total) are full of treasures. The stores offers an array of Japanese pottery, books, accessories and even its own line of red wine made by an Italian vintner that pays homage to the Japanese notion of wa, or harmony.
the best museum retail stores in the world
There you have it. Our picks for the best museum gift shops in the world. And the best part of our list? Almost all of these museum design shops have some form of online shop, in the event you can’t make it to their doors.
That being said, as every good shopper knows, the best selection is always in-store. So why miss out on a great chance to explore a new museum and get in a little shopping, too? If you happen to be reading this in preparation for the holiday season, you should also know that in the US, the Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend has been designated Museum Store Sunday. It serves as a gentle nudge and a reminder that some of the best gifts in the world are waiting for you at a museum.
What’s your favorite museum shop? Which other ones should we have on our list?
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Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier. Formerly, she was a Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in NYC and is married with three young children. She loves cross country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.
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