You Can Take It With You, and Museums Hope You Will
When Philine Hofman was hired a decade ago to head the merchandising and retail department at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, she was given the dual mandate of finding new ways to get the institution’s art out to the public and improving sales at the gift shop.
As an initial step, Ms. Hofman, a former product development executive in the Dutch food industry, commissioned a new line of Rijksmuseum-branded merchandise.
In addition to upgrading the postcards and coffee mugs that are standard fare at museum shops everywhere, she ordered origami puzzles styled from old masters imagery, silk scarves with the colors of those in Rembrandt’s “The Jewish Bride,” and pencil sets coordinated to the palette of “The Milkmaid” by Vermeer.
“A lot of these were, quite frankly, souvenirs,” Ms. Hofman recalled in a telephone interview from Amsterdam. “Till recently, many museum shops were really souvenir shops. A large segment of our visitors are tourists. We hope that after a meaningful experience in our galleries, they’ll buy an object based on something they’ve seen and that they can take home.”
Though Ms. Hofman’s souvenirs sold well, she longed to bring something more imaginative to the 3,200-square-foot store.
In 2012, an opportunity came her way. The Rijksmuseum trustees announced Rijksstudio, a program that involved photographing hundreds of thousands of artworks and putting the free images online.
With a vast collection now in the public domain, Ms. Hofman saw a chance to get playful. As the museum leadership organized competitions to encourage people to make products based on the Rijksmuseum’s collection, she began stocking the works of contest winners. She also initiated a series of partnerships with local corporations so that they might use the images for new types of merchandise.
Today, when visitors enter the shop, they’ll find action figures by the German toy manufacturer Playmobil based on “The Milkmaid” and on Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”
Silk frocks by the Dutch fashion brand LaDress, printed with museum imagery, are available by special order.
The shop even has syrups, marmalades and jellies made from ingredients depicted in classic artworks. For about six euros ($7.40) one can take home a jar of chutney based on Martinus Nellius’s “Still Life With Quinces, Medlars and a Glass.”
“Museum shops are no longer just about selling things — they are about adding a new step to the museum experience,” said Diane Drubay, the chief executive of We Are Museums, a European consultancy that advises museums worldwide on marketing.
As the stores become more experimental, Ms. Drubay noted, they are evolving — as the Rijksmuseum shop has — into destinations unto themselves. “In many places,” she said, “they are a point of entry to the museum. Instead of being the last place people go after a visit, it can be the first.”
One retail experiment Ms. Drubay considers emblematic of this new trend is the annex shop of the Musée National Picasso-Paris in Paris. This shop is not in the museum itself, but occupies a four-room apartment across the street at 4 Rue de Thorigny.
It sells books about the artist and objects made in his style. The shop is a kind of Picasso-world, selling gifts and decorative items — the kinds of things he might have owned. There’s a bin of hand-carved masks from West Africa, for example.
The shop itself is decorated to reflect the style of an actual Parisian flat in which Picasso once lived. In fact, the store’s designers purchased chairs and decorations similar to those in photographs of the artist’s home.
“It’s designed like a living room and it’s just like going to a friend’s place,” Ms. Drubay said. “You have this intimate and cozy feeling and you have a feeling that you can imagine an object in your home. I remember beautiful vases and coffee cups.”
In some places, museum shops are playing a new role by filling a space abandoned by commercial vendors. In New York City, where high rents have made dedicated gift and design stores somewhat of a rarity, the shop of the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street is the go-to place for high-concept tableware, furniture, lighting, jewelry and clothing.
Every piece offered has been approved by the museum’s curatorial staff, and some of what is sold is in the MoMA permanent collection. This is where you can find an Eames chaise, an Issey Miyake scarf or a Salvador Dalí-style cuckoo clock.
BSA Images Of The Week: 04.29.18
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