Museum gift shops -- easily the most popular part of the museum -- are going online, just like the rest of the art world. Now you can browse through a cornucopia of artsy tchotchkes from the comfort of your desk, avoiding the humiliation of waiting in line at the cash register with a set of Impressionism mugs. Most of the more advanced museum sites are technophiliac enough to take orders over the web. So get out your credit card and start clicking.
Let's start at the online marketplace otherwise known as the Guggenheim Museum. Where else could you find a work by the estimable German Neo-Expressionist Georg Baselitz turned into an $85 silk scarf? It's called Folk Dance -- how do you know which way is up? Wear it with the Guggenheim's Mondrian umbrella ($38.00) and throw on a de Chirico watch with his painting Sailor's Barracks illustrated on the face ($40) from the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla. and you'll be the walking version of the "Modern" chapter of Janson's History of Art. (It must include Baselitz by now.)
The National Gallery of Art also offers quite a few treasures on its site -- no Bill or Hillary paraphernalia, however. (There's got to be a Hillary, Monica and nude Bill picnicking à la Manet's Déjuner sur l'Herbe out there somewhere.) You can find some less controversial conversation pieces for your dinner party, however -- a set of four coasters ($14) imprinted with color images from Impressionist paintings by Bonnard or Monet. Team them with placemat versions of Bonnard's Table Set in a Garden or Monet's Japanese Footbridge, for $24 the pair. Nothing like accidentally smearing pesto on a Monet reproduction to raise the issue of moral rights!
The National Gallery has devoted an entire section of the store to its current blockbuster, "Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare." What caught my eye, along with the usual posters, cards and books, was a jigsaw puzzle version of Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare, Arrival of a Train ($12.95). I can't wait till "Van Gogh's Van Goghs" opens on Oct. 4 -- I'm hoping for some temporary tattoos with his self-portrait, or maybe some Irises paper towels.
Online museum store shopping is especially good if you want to make it look like you went somewhere that you never actually got to -- or if you forgot to bring back a gift from your latest vacation. Of particular note for the armchair tourist is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which offers a unique "Fog Dome." For $26.95 you can get a miniature of the SFMOMA building encased in a fogged glass ball -- a regional take on the ubiquitous airport gift-shop snow globe.
Most of the merchandise on sale at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is derived from the museum's holdings, like the set of refrigerator magnets based on Italian Renaissance frames in the museum's collection ($17.96). If you don't want to browse, click on the "bestsellers" link for a selection of the eight most popular items on the museum's site, which just happens to include a Met Net Membership for $50, designed for internet users.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art also sells items for the computer savvy -- $21.95 will get you computer fonts based on Rodin's or Michelangelo's handwriting, and $23.95 will get you Cezanne's script. Download the fonts and you can sign your e-mails like the masters themselves.
For $16.95 you can coordinate your computer desk with a matching mousepad and coaster set donning an Egyptian design from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Add an Egyptian screensaver ($25.00) for full anachronistic immersion. These products can be purchased directly from the museum by phone, or you can go to a larger host site called the Museum Shop @ Home. About 20 museums, from the Whitney Museum in New York to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, run their shops through this site so that consumers can order items online using a credit card. (Right now the museum sites proper aren't technically equipped for direct purchasing, and require faxing or calling in your order.)
It's not just American museums who are capitalizing on the net. The Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany sells Jenny Holzer t-shirts for 25 DM (by phone or fax.) The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, sells an array of goodies inspired by Australian artist Brett Whitely, including a beach sarong ($110 Australian dollars -- $66 US) inspired by his 1975 painting The Balcony 2. The best seller at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art is its chocolate body paint for $12.95 (Australian), though it must be ordered by fax for the time being.
Many sites, like the Sydney MCA, are in the process of upgrading their systems to allow the online purchase of all this stuff, so we can look forward to an even greater selection in the future. One pointer: most museums offer at least a 10 percent discount for members on their online purchases, and many conveniently have online membership registration forms -- on a serious note, museum membership remains one of the best bargains in the art world. Go to ArtNet's "Museums" page for easy access to both U.S. and global museum websites. Happy shopping!
MEREDITH MENDELSOHN is assistant editor at ArtNet Magazine.
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