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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

gallery shopping

Have you noticed that art galleries tend to have much better shops than museums?

Aware that I have just placed myself among those who get just as much pleasure from purchasing a few knick-knacks as from gazing at an endless supply of masterpieces, I will continue regardless.

The one exception, for me, was the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The museum itself is much like someone's attic, filled with cool/random old treasures, and its shop is similarly filled with COOL STUFF that could match anyone's budget. Souvenirs that were actually not tacky; accessories; books; creativity exploding off the walls.

But other museums, it seems to me, are full of tacky little models of animals or postcards or badges or low-quality jewellery and maybe a mug or two. Art gallery shops, however, are just filled with prettiness and cleverness. I defy anyone to not be able to find a good present for someone there (although they may need a slightly deep wallet).

The Tate Modern's shop was my favourite in London. The gallery itself was a mixed (though intense) experience for me, but one of the nicest things about it was that it encouraged visitors to actively engage with it - for example, it gave out art sets and pads of paper to children, who could be found sprawling on the floor all over the gallery drawing paintings or artwork that they liked. So different from the more traditional gallery in which you might find the occasional art student working but would feel completely silly trying it yourself, and the mere thought of children sprawling themselves on the floor, drawing, would attract gallery attendants to move them along. The Tate Modern shop was obviously stocked with a similar ethos - unlike other gallery shops, it had heaps and heaps of art supplies, including many for children, besides the inevitable postcards and books and aprons and mugs and umbrellas. I was so hard put to it there not to buy and buy and buy.

I spent the most money, while I was in London, at the National Gallery store. The National Gallery, of which I only saw a small amount - the Dutch Masters and the Impressionists - is an overwhelmingly amazing place, and afterwards, besides feeling dazed by it all, I felt like I had, in some small way, to take at least some of what I saw with me. This ended up being a huge Gauguin poster, a Monet book, a book about the National gallery, and a mug based on Van Gogh's sunflowers as a present for someone. Phew. And it was a battle with my conscience to buy no more.

I remember a similar experience when I was a twelve-year-old visiting the USA with my parents, and, after spending a day wandering round the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, making a beeline for the shop and begging my mum to advance probably over half of the money I had saved for the trip so that I could spend it all at once. I ended up buying one Renoir book which I still have.

(Other places in England with shops in which I almost spent large amounts of money - the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the British Library Store, the National Portrait Gallery, and some nice little modern art gallery I visited in Chichester. I'm sure there are no shortage of them.)

My local, the Christchurch Art Gallery, also has a lovely little shop. It has some great postcard reproductions, some of which I have put in little frames at home - an easy way to decorate - and then a whole lot of cool stuff, including books - especially children's books - which I can't find at any other shops in town. Wearable t-shirts. Stationery. Gifts. It obviously doesn't aim itself at "the average tourist", yet isn't completely inaccessible either.

What a frightening thing it is that I could, potentially, visit the online stores of all the world's major art galleries. I could spend huuuuuuuuge amounts of money.

What are your favourite kinds of slighty-abnormal shops?

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