Monday, November 21, 2022

The museum gift shop


Poised, as I am, on the brink of an exciting two week vacation to Nice, France with my delightful wife, the subject of gift shops came up. 

Because we construct a mini reality around our fairly rare vacations, in which we are for a time pretty rich (by our standards), we spend a good amount of our trip in the gift shops of foreign lands. We have been in the pottery shops of Lisbon, the leather shops of Florence, the cookware stores of Paris, and all 1,158 glass shops of Venice, Italy. But as I look around our somewhat aesthetically minimal home I am struck by how much we have from one particular shop- The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop, in central Rome, Italy.

I mean, we also have some really pretty porcelain from a craftsperson's shop in Rome, and a couple of decorative glass things from Venice's 1,158 glass shops, and my cappuccino cup here comes from a favorite shop in Duluth, but

let us not be diverted.

Half of everything hanging on our walls is from The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop!

If the Matisse Museum, or the Chagall Museum, in Nice, have gift shops half as good as The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop, we will be coming home with absolute sacks of stuff. We will be buying a rolly suitcase just for the purpose of transporting all our Chagall and Matisse gifts home. You yourself will probably be receiving some kind of Matisse or Chagall themed gift from me as a souvenir of our journey.

But this probably won't happen. 

And this is because few gift shops are anywhere near as good as The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop.

And yet, like with so many excellent things, it is not a matter of The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop being some outlandish, from out of nowhere, unimaginable invention. Instead it is more like: oh, why aren't all museum gift shops like this?

The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop is mostly, not entirely, but mostly, products derived from, or celebrating the art items in, their collection. That's really all there is to it. There is some creativity involved. For instance what we have in our home are highly decorative and charmingly framed reproductions of two of their paintings. But I still have, and at the time of the trip, handed out many gifts of simple bookmarks, heavily, sturdily, and nicely laminated, depicting excellent details from some their best paintings.

Contrast this with, as an example, the gift shop of my town's quite nice museum, The Mia in Saint Minneapolis. It is surely four times the size of The Doria Pamphilj Museum Gift Shop. But while it may have a couple racks of postcards reflecting their collection, and perhaps a small portion of its books are about current or past shows, the vast majority of their gifts have only a tangential relation to the museum's wonderful collection of art. It is a gift shop not of The Mia so much as a gift shop of, I don't know, the idea of art in general? And it's products are, I don't know, lightly mass produced, arty, crafty, witty takes on... art? Design? Crafts?

That sounds pretty harsh. It's a perfectly nice gift shop. And one could transplant it into any museum in America, exactly as is, and I doubt any customer would notice anything the least bit wrong.

But it could be in any museum!

Of course, there is a third kind of gift shop, probably even worse than the Mia, and more common to European and large tourist city Museums. That is the cheap souvenirs style gift shop. It may have a few postcards, books, and representations from whatever stunning collection of art it is situated in or near, but beyond that it will mainly provide a selection of all the generic City souvenir garbage one can find everywhere else. Waiting for your entrance time at the Borghese in Rome, where the greatest collection of Bernini Statues in the world is? Well it's probably a great place to get a 3D cardboard make-it-yourself model of the Coliseum.

Which brings us back to Nice.

I am writing this roughly three weeks before it appears on clerkmanifesto. It is my last preparatory blog post. In the next one, tomorrow's, I will be writing as a person who has been to Nice, and been to the gift shops of Nice. I will or won't have Matisse souvenirs. And I will be able to tell you all about it.

But I probably won't. Because The World Cup will have started.

 Tomorrow, tomorrow, is Argentina's first game, against Saudi Arabia, at four in the morning!

Set your alarms.

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