The World's Coolest Museum Gift Shops
It’s not unusual to visit Casa Batlló—a spectacular turn-of-the-century Barcelona home built by avant-garde Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí—and wish you could live there. That’s not an option (the house was long ago turned into a museum), but you can buy replicas of many of the items on display. Who says you can’t take art home with you?
The desire to collect mementos has motivated travelers ever since Marco Polo carried home silks, ivory, and jewels from his forays to the Far East. And over the years, as all travelers know, gift and souvenir shops have proliferated around the world to meet that desire. Museum shops, however, have in many ways perfected the art of curating just the right keepsakes for travelers to take home with them—ones that evoke not only a particular sense of place, but also a sense of time.
Take the MoMa Design Store in New York City, where you can pick up a Spherical Ice Tray Set. Part of a product category that soared following a 2010–2011 exhibition called “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen,” the $18 tray makes ice balls with two-inch diameters that not only look cool but also melt slower than their square counterparts. It’s a nod to great modern design as well as the artisanal attention that’s being given to cocktails these days.
At their best, museum stores defy simple categorization. Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum store, for example, is a one-stop shop for shoe-related collectibles—just don’t go looking to buy actual footwear there. “One cannot be all things to all people,” explains retail manager Christopher Mitanidis.
Perhaps not. But the museum gift shops showcased here are exceptional places to pick up items that may be gorgeous and groovy or—in the case of the conjoined-twin cookie cutter at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum—something nobody needs. As Trip Haenisch, a Los Angeles–based interior designer who regularly frequents the MoMa Store for gifts, says, “It might be a bunch of paper clips…but they’re the most beautifully designed paper clips ever.”
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen
Salt-glazed vases, $37–$74.
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Patterned coasters, $3 each.
Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain
Hand-painted silk scarf, $204.
Imperial War Museums, London
The Great War Cook Book, $14.
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Retro toy station wagon, $45.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
For an institution that celebrated its 160th birthday in 2012, the V&A runs a remarkably progressive retail operation spanning four stores in its South Kensington location. An exclusive clothing line designed in-house using patterns derived from mid-century British textiles in the museum’s collections is a hit at the new Fashion Gallery Shop (which, critically, has its own changing room). Elsewhere, sculpted brass collars, paisley-printed stag head wall ornaments, and other items drawn from the museum’s world-class exhibitions share a common denominator: a touch of the Brits’ famous eccentricity.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen
A well-edited selection of the best in Scandinavian design can be found at this museum shop on the shores of the Øresund (the strait separating Denmark from Sweden). In the two-story space, sleek, brightly colored toys and funky Finnish bikes share shelf space with classics of Danish design, like the architect Mogens Lassen’s Kubus candleholder, circa 1962. The offerings aren’t completely Nordic-centric, though; also on display are minimalist serving utensils from Japan and a rainbow selection of recycled leather wallets from England.
Singapore Art Museum (SAM), Singapore
MUSEUM LABEL, the innovative brand and retail concept developed by the National Heritage Board of Singapore, opened its first store at SAM in April, paving the way for even deeper collaborations with local artists. A series of collectibles inspired by Walter, a giant white bunny that sprung from the imagination of artist Dawn Ng; an $888 limited-edition gold-plated bust designed by Justin Lee, credited with introducing Pop art to his fellow Singaporeans; and a piggy bank shaped like a pig’s trotter, by the design studio B.A.L.L.S., are just a few of the store’s noteworthy pieces.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
Renovated in 2007, when Steven Holl debuted his extraordinary addition to the museum complex, this store stocks collectibles that reflect both its top-notch Asian art holdings—the sculpture of Guanyin, the Buddhist god of mercy, inspires near-daily inquiries—and its hometown allegiances. Ceramic shuttlecock ornaments designed by local artist Irma Starr, for instance, wink at the lauded/reviled Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculptures positioned on the museum’s north and south lawns.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
The curator-approved merchandise filling Manhattan’s three MoMa Stores occupies nearly 18,000 square feet of combined retail space. Since opening in 1989, the Design Store, in particular, has set the paradigm for cultural commerce, offering beautifully executed toys, jewelry, textiles, stationery, electronics, furniture—many pieces minted by the same designers whose works appear in the adjoining museum. The $410 Louis Ghost Armchair designed by Philippe Starck in 2002 and the $145 Candela Cube lamp, a MoMa exclusive, are among the standout items.
107 Rivoli at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris
Described as “a contemporary version of the curiosity cabinet,” this Parisian boutique attached to the Louvre is a magnet for design geeks and Francophiles, who are drawn to its chic collection of Baccarat crystal, paper lamps, reproductions of antique glass from the 15th to 17th centuries, and contemporary jewelry (check out the space-age silicone and silk necklaces by Franco-Israeli designer Tzuri Gueta). The book section alone makes clear why the space maintains its own prestigious address.
Bauhaus Center, Tel Aviv
There’s no better place to experience the purity of this 20th-century design aesthetic than Tel Aviv, home to the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus-style buildings. And for visitors looking for stylish White City souvenirs, there’s no better source than the Bauhaus Center, where replicas of original designs—like Josef Hartwig’s 1923 wooden chess set, whose pieces bear shapes that indicate the movements they are capable of—embody the school’s elegant function-dictates-form mandates.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona
Antoni Gaudí’s psychedelic masterpiece of Modernism, known by locals as the House of Bones for its multicolored, skeletal-looking façade, has a small but captivating shop that sells books, jewelry, even miniature Gaudí chairs rendered in silver and wood. Coming soon: full-scale reproductions of furniture designed by Gaudí for the Batlló family, whose kaleidoscopic Barcelona home will be available for purchase bit by bit, thanks to such painstakingly crafted reproductions.
Newseum, Washington, D.C.
Although this museum’s commitment to the historical record would suggest a gift shop full of academic tomes and faded newspaper prints, the Newseum store has a surprisingly robust pop culture section. “Honey Badger Don’t Care” T-shirts (memorializing the YouTube sensation of 2011) compete here with serious fare, including certified hunks of the Berlin Wall and a $500 framed front-page article from the St. Louis Dispatch heralding Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic.
Craft and Folk Art 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 exotic egg dishes, the couple sold folk art they’d collected on their far-flung travels. The gallery-café later gave birth to the museum, whose modern-day store, the SHOP@CAFAM, stocks handmade and fair-trade items—vintage Hmong tribe textiles, Oaxacan animal carvings, beaded necklaces from Uganda—that provide a vicarious travel experience all their own.
Museo de Arte Popular (MAP), Mexico City
Short of visiting Michoacán, Chiapas, or Oaxaca, your best bet for acquiring authentic pieces of Mexican folk art is a trip to Tienda del MAP—which shares space with Mexico City’s best folk-art museum. The store, opened in 2006, echoes the museum’s exhibition halls by stocking a beguiling selection of traditional silver jewelry, ceramics, woodcarvings, metalwork, and textiles. Jewelry designed by Luis Alonso Espejel in the silver town of Cuernavaca, and ceramic pineapples crafted by Michoacán-based Hilario Alejos Madrigal top the store’s bestseller list.
The Museum of Anthropology (MOA), Vancouver
Ceremonial bentwood boxes, copper shields painted with family crests, and other objects representing the First Nations abound at this sophisticated 1,800-square-foot-store located on the cliffs of Vancouver’s Point Grey. Reopened in 2009, on the heels of the MOA renewal project, the store is also a platform for local artists—such as Vancouver architect Noel Best, designer of the $2,650 limited-edition MOA chair—not to mention a rich source for the globe’s finest cultural keepsakes.
The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Visitors to this expansive museum showcasing shoes from around the world may be disappointed to learn that its store does not, in fact, sell shoes. Regardless, fans of footwear will find lots of shoe-themed merchandise, ranging from a $19.95 make-your-own-decorative-shoes crafting kit to a $450 limited-edition screen print of a brogue by local artist Alanna Cavanagh. While the most popular items are greeting cards, the store also offers pieces destined to satisfy even the quirkiest shoe junkies—Barbie shoe earrings and shadow boxes of shoes from various cultures, for example.
Mütter Museum, Philadelphia
At first glance, a museum that explores death, disease, and human suffering might not seem conducive to the purchase of charming souvenirs. But the store at the museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia manages to charm visitors with the kooky (a $6.50 conjoined-twin cookie cutter that Anthony Bourdain reportedly fell in love with), the artistic (a specially commissioned paper doll of Dr. Mütter himself), and the scholarly (Armand Marie Leroi’s captivating book, Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body).
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, a Japanese spiritual leader. In addition to displaying items that complement her vast collection of Asian and Western antiques, the store offers an array of Japanese pottery, books, CDs, even a pricey bottle of biotic red wine made by an Italian vintner, all of which pay homage to the Japanese notion of wa, or harmony.