Objects of Desire: Aaron’s top museum shop picks

At museum stores art meets Mammon. They have a great thing going for them: the whole point of an art museum is that you can’t buy what you’re looking at, though everything the museum does...


For me, the last category is what sets art museum stores apart from the other purveyors of either coffee table tomes or tchotckes. The best offerings let you take home the art—the essence of what the museum is about. Herewith, some of my favorites.

Josef Albers Plate,, $19 This is a reproduction of a painting from L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s collection, Study for Homage to the Square (1954). Albers was a master at combining colors to make unexpected, yet harmonious relations appear. Put a fruit on these at home and you can continue his work –or ruin it.

Marcel Broodthaers Stamp,, $29 “This Is Not Art” might be a great comment you can imprint on a letter or a drawing that comes across your desk, but it also describes this blue stamp. The conceptual artist Broodthaers created it for a 1968 exhibition, and the L.A. based group Art Project reproduced it for sale at MOCA.

Cocoa Espresso Cups and Saucers,, $58 Edith Heath was for many decades one of America’s greatest ceramicists. From her Sausalito studio came countless plates, cups and even ashtrays, all with her saturated colors and simple forms. Since her death two years ago, Heath Ceramics carries on, here with a cup, glazed only on the inside, they developed for SFMOMA’s new rooftop sculpture garden café.

Diaspora Playing Cards,, $88 Martin Venezky shows of his trademark layers of graphic marks on this deck of playing cards he developed for SFMOMA. A graphic designer who surrounds pages with enigmatic clouds of information, Venezky here lets you play your own graphic games.

Painters Cap,, $24 San Francisco designers Rock and Rain designed this new take on the traditional painter’s cap for when you go out there to make your own creations or just repaint the house. The museum’s logo, an abstraction of their building’s central turret, adorns the front.

William Wegman Gray and Scarlet Poster,, $19.99 Wegman became famous for posing his gray Weimaraners (there have been three generations by now) in unlikely poses. Here they look slightly forlorn in Ohio State University (where the Wexner Center is located) hoodies. Has the team just lost?

Jockum Nordstrum Playing Cards,, $19.95 Nordstrum, a local Columbus, Ohio artist, made what look like slightly naïve, perhaps even handmade cards that seem to evoke some melancholy or perhaps even dire circumstances. The images are haunting; shuffle the deck and you can tell your own tale.

Protect Me From What I Want T-Shirt,, $34 The artist Jenny Holzer created these shirts for an exhibition she had at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003. Like all of her Zen koan-like art, they address the tensions of living in a world dominated by commerce. This one seems particularly ironic for a museum store to sell.

Charity Money Boxes,, $15.50 Museums depend on the generous gifts of donors. Perhaps you can save up for your big naming opportunity by putting your pennies into these sad-looking children produced by Suck UK. Like a lot of recent art, they play with kitsch and conventions, making you wonder what good taste is. And how much you can contribute to its display.

Paint Brush Candles,, $15 Art burns brightly with these tools of the painter’s trade turned into candles. It reminds me of the series of paintings by Gerhard Richter, which carefully and delicately depict candles burning. Those are worth millions each, these are on sale.

Girard Doll Number 11,, $160 Alexander Girard was an artist and graphic designer enlivened the decades after the Second World War with bright colors and primitive forms. The Cooper-Hewitt dedicated a major retrospective to his work in 2001, and several years later the Vitra Museum in Basel, Switzerland, found these designs for dolls in the archives they own. I am not sure you want to let your kids play with this beauty.

Floral Plate; Real Plates,, $85 Constantin Boym has loves reusing cast-off plates and turning them into new designs, and here the Cooper-Hewitt gave him the run of their collections of historic services. He selected a few to make them all new again by encasing the original design in a larger plate. This one is based on a 1825 English design.

Credit Card Cutlery,, $10 Stuck on a picnic or on the subway without knife and fork? Pull out Dutch designer Ineke Hans’ credit cards, punch them on the dotted line, fold, and dig in. Hans created these ingenious plastic creations that you can carry in your wallet for the Cooper-Hewitt.

Cherry Hawk Coffee Mug,, $8.50 I happen to run an art museum myself, and we pride ourselves on showing the work of local artists. Charley Harper brought life to science books, travel magazines and paintings by closely observing and then abstracting flora and fauna. After his death two years ago, his estate began putting his designs on towels, prints and ceramics. He married geometry and life into vivid, but simple shapes. This coffee cup wakes you up with what’s on it as well as what’s in it.

Critic, curator and museum director Aaron Betsky curated the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2008, ran Rotterdam’s Netherlands Architecture Institute from 2001-2006 and these days, helms the Cincinnati Art Museum. See his previous blogs HERE and check back on Thursday for his next post.

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