10 Museum Gift Shops That Might Be Better Than the Museums Themselves
Gift shops are a part of the museum-going experience that often dip into cliché. But it doesn’t have to be all overpriced prints and postcards. Here, museum gift shops that fill their shelves with eye-catching pieces you’ll definitely want to have filling your house.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
This specialty shop stocks robust pop culture keepsakes from streamlined Warholian pieces like David Robbins Memento Plate (from Andy with love), hand-carved Freeway Eyeware frames ($100) and a Raymond Pettibon note card set ($17.95). A genial, appealing limited edition “Little Cloud” lamp ($230) by the LA-based Friends with You promises peace and love—and a chargeable battery for constant illumination.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
This gift shop's thematics reflect many of the Nelson-Atkins museum pieces and exhibitions on display. Currently, visiting the museum affords a wider variety over the current website. Stock up on noteworthy classics like Asian-inspired pieces, teapots, glossy art books and niche items, like a smart-looking decanter from Roost ($55) and a small artistically crafted bisque porcelain pot ($65). For novelty, look no further than the shuttlecocks mug ($19) from artist Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s hard-to-miss outdoor sculptures.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
In downtown Chicago, MCA’s shop runs the gamut with merchandise from designer Harry Allen’s marble and polyester resin pig bank closed off with a cork (which holds up to 10K in cash) to a recycled chopsticks folding basket ($30) perfect for displaying fruit. Check out the quirky set of circus character clothespins—known as the Pegzini family and perfect for sealing a chip bag or your laundry ($11.95), and a peaceful group of green army figures called Yoga Joes in various poses ($25).
Craft & Folk Art Museum Shop, Los Angeles
Once an omelet shop on Wilshire Boulevard, the Craft and Folk Art Museum Shop gives visitors a range of innovative woods, crafts, textiles, clay pieces and tchotchkes. And for jewelry, artist Kirstin Erickson does a fun Shmoo Necklace ($80) and LA-based jeweler “See Real Flowers” has this simple handmade driftwood amulet wrapped in gold wire and hanging on African brass beads ($84).
Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York City
The Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum gift shop has long included a diverse mix of emerging designers and established artists with rare book titles and limited-edition works. Designer Pat Kim updated the classic dinner bell triangle ($60) in a black oxide finish with brass and English bridle leather. A “Forgotten Memory” candle ($150) melds warm spices, fresh tobacco, leather and earthy woodnotes in a clean, porcelain container. And for any old-school writers out there, a Japanese-made brass pen ($29) makes a handsome desk accessory.
Mutter Museum, Philadelphia
There’s a quirky, unusual assortment of items at the Mutter Museum and you should expect a similar collection at the gift shop. From a kitschy Einstein Solar Figurine ($25) to a brass plant mister ($30) and yes, even a crime scene shower curtain ($16), there’s something unconventional for everyone. Items falling under novelty include chatter teeth with eyes ($2.25) and an EMT Organ Transplant Lunchbag ($20) so you can use your peanut butter sandwich to creep everyone out at work.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
The discerning folks at Walker Art Center unleashed a new line entitled “Intangibles,” full of conceptual objects like personalized avatars and ringtones. For instance, you can buy “Canonical Tones,” a “suite” of 12 ringtones composed by Nico Muhly using intriguingly titled “gentle alarm” and “mystery caller” sounds. Tangibles include a handsome Merino Wool Frankie Tote with vegetable-tanned leather details ($395), thematic pocket notebooks from Marc’s Inc ($22) and, for the kids, a small colorful “Cubebot” by designer David Weeks for Areaware ($15).
Glass House, New Canaan, CT
In 2013, Murray Moss (the beloved former SoHo retailer) personally handselected, curated and reinvented the goods inside Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House gift boutique. The store sells everything from an elegant Glass House Snow Globe ($75) to a classic, refined model 9090 Espresso Maker by Alessi (a design from 1979) for $240.
Museum of Modern Art, New York City
The Museum of Modern Art’s Design Store (with three New York City locations) houses a wide range of well-edited selections of toys, electronics, textiles and furniture. Best sellers include a practical butterup knife ($20), which shaves cold butter into accessible ribbons; a classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman (starting at $4,859); and a French-designed set of “Distinct Patterned Glasses” so everyone can remember who is drinking what ($125).
Museum of International Folk Art Gift Shop, Santa Fe
Like its museum, an 80,000-square-foot home for the world’s largest collection of folk art, this gift shop remains a rich source of unique cultural objects spanning the globe. It’s easy to spend hours getting lost inside. Consider a hand-painted Turkish pottery platter ($89); a selection of African, Mexican and Guatemalan masks; narrative textile wall hangings ($42); and geometric Molas (handstitched patterned panels), including labyrinth designs of modern graphics (from $38).