Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What would an artist buy at the gift shop?

Today is Van Gogh’s birthday. What would one get him at museum’s gift shop? Would he like the coffee mug with his mug? Would Vincent wear a self-portrait tie? Would a little bit of lunch get stuck in his beard and spot his tie? What would he think of the calendar? There was a recent episode of Dr. Who where The Doctor takes Van Gogh to the future. Van Gogh got to see his work in a London museum. It was cute. It would have been really clever if they had taken Van Gogh down to the gift shop.

Often opinions on museum gift shops can fall into two camps. There are those folks who one suspects really visit the museum mostly for the gift shop. Then there is the other side that just abhors the gift shop. The gift shop can be a good source of revenue for any museum. I generally don’t mind them. But what I do object to is the way they are spreading into exhibitions space. For example, The Legion of Honor has a perfectly adequate gift shop. A few years back, just around the corner, an entire exhibition room was also commandeered as a gift shop for their special shows. This is the point when I want to start decrying the moneychangers in the temple. I call it “gift shop creep” as additional gift shops start popping up and expanding out of their spaces.

There is one thing that I do recommend buying at museum gift shops — post cards.

I don’t have the means to buy every art book I want. Instead, I buy museum postcards of art I like. I get home and put them in a photo album. At this point, I have invested as much as one very expensive art book. The book of postcards has become a sort of art book of my personal favorites. And while I could also fill it with notes (I don’t), it acts as a journal of art that I have found interesting over the years.

And I do confess, after the traveling show has packed up, a few months later, I will pop into the shop and then buy the fridge magnets for cheap and even an occasional coffee mug.

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