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ENTER THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP Designed Objects, Images, and Identity in New York City’s Art Museums

Submitted to by Polly Adams to the Masters in Design Research, Writing, and Criticism Program at the School of Visual Arts in May 2020


Statement of Intent ....................................................................................................... .3 Abstract ......................................................................................................................... 4 Thesis Statement .......................................................................................................... 5 Thesis Portfolio Essays ................................................................................................. 6 1. Enter Through the Gift Shop: the Potential of Tchotchkes ..................................... 7 2. Making a Mascot: The Curious Case of William the Hippo .................................... 19 3. Evidence of Life Well-Lived: the Evolution of the MoMA Design Store .................. 33 Bibliography .................................................................................................................. 50


Statement of Intent My visits to the art museum, I have realized, resemble the way a religious person visits a place of worship––I’m not necessarily looking for anything new each time, but instead hoping to deepen my existing connection with what’s inside. As a designer, researcher, and frequent patron in the holy house of the art museum, I’m compelled to check the origins of my personal belief system through the mediums that mediate it. Broadly, this body of work aims to uncover to what extent art museums and guests collaboratively exchange value through designed objects, images and experiences. The primary goal of looking at this question through the lens of design is to bring to light the complex connections forged and reinforced in the museum store and what they imply for the art museum at large. I’ve used these connections to better understand both how individuals appropriate, or make their own, the values of the art museum that in turn packages and sells them with the intention of individuals sharing them. Specifically, framing designed objects and images as mediators enables a new discourse for the evolving relationship between the individual and the institution as a symbiotic one, wherein each party legitimizes the other through material evidence. By targeting several world-renowned, industry-leading institutions in New York City, I hope to create a new conversation with museum curators, cultural strategists, and museum patrons concerning their relationships and responsibilities to one another under the challenging circumstances ahead.


Abstract Art museums, as institutions that provide access to artworks and artifacts, have long offered the potential of a deeply moving experience with objects or ideas. In the context of an experience economy, the main selling point of the art museum appears to have evolved into the embodied, or personal, experience one has in the art museum alone and with others. This project aims to investigate the ways individuals capture and share their experiences in the art museum through souvenirs, such as objects in the gift shop or self-created images in the galleries, as a means of crafting identity and building connections. Each essay approaches embodiment of the museum experience through a case study specific to a New York City institution that has influenced trends for the industry at large. Focusing on the evidence visitors collect and create from the embodied experience at these institutions allows for an object-based approach, or one that considers museum experience through the physical and digital items that re-create and represent it. From the development of items for sale in the gift shop to the influence of social media and image-making in the galleries, this work reveals that the symbiotic relationship between the individual and the institution is mediated by the things that embody the museum experience. The ostensibly pragmatic transactions that occur around objects and images in the art museum open up the opportunity for more meaningful connections to art and the past.


Thesis Statement The relationship between the individual and the art museum is mediated by the appropriation and sharing of designed objects and images.



1. Enter Through the Gift Shop: the Potential of Art Tchotchkes Seeing the Light It could have been the long day walking around a foreign city by myself, the uncomfortable new shoes I had on, my failing relationship, or a whole host of other things that increased the likelihood of me crying in public. Notwithstanding the external circumstances that brought me there that day, I sat for what felt like an eternity tearing up in front Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, repetition of the 4th version, yellow background (1889) in the Van Gogh museum circa late spring of 2018. Peeling myself away from that particular painting in a quiet, windowless room felt almost impossible. The bright yellow crevices of oil paint burned into my eyes like the sun; I didn’t want to look away for fear of leaving behind the warmth. Most of the other things that happened that day have long since evaporated from my memory. But the time I spent sitting in front of that painting has stuck with me, and it was probably the closest I’ve come to truly having what social researchers classify as a “numinous” experience. The term numinous, in this context, is synonymous with transformational and borrowed from psychoanalytic and religious studies in the first half of the 20th century. Since then, it has been leveraged by professionals in museum studies to study and define the elements of meaningful experiences in heritage sites and with objects in a museum context. In other words, that sunflower painting appears to have had a deeply profound effect on me, one that I would even say resembled a religious one. If that experience convinced me of anything, it is that art museums do offer the potential of deeply meaningful moments when you can make it there in person. But it also opened up a line of further questioning around what brought me there, and I landed somewhere I truly wasn’t expecting: the museum gift store.


Art and Commerce With up to a quarter of art museum revenue worldwide coming from retail initiatives, there appears to be a relatively sizable market that capitalizes on the celebrity of wellknown artists and art pieces found in famous collections. At first glance, it’s easy to categorize this phenomena as a linear one that transfers fame from gallery to gift store shelf and then into our homes. When visitors are prompted to “exit through the gift shop,” most assume that museums are capitalizing on a heightened propensity to buy something after experiencing something memorable. That idea itself insinuates that the experience in the galleries is valuable, or worth capturing in some way. While the trend of consumerism in the gift shop has settled, the process of commoditization in the art museum has shifted from tangible items to that of the experience itself––one that’s objective value is difficult to quantify, and even more difficult to trace the origin of. However, it is possible to investigate the objects and images that mediate and extend the value we hope to find at the art museum; to take a look under the proverbial hood of our personal relationships to the art and the past to see what really holds them together. Millions make pilgrimages to the world’s biggest art institutions every year. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for instance, it’s estimated that 28 percent of the some seven million guests that walked through the great hall in 2019 were international tourists visiting New York. 1 With another 16 percent from the tristate area and 21 percent from the rest of the continental United States, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the visitors there each day come from far and wide to stand in the presence of masterpieces. Even from Brooklyn, my trek to the Upper East Side feels like it constitutes an epic journey. I wouldn’t dream of spending that much time on the subway just to buy something from the gift shop, but I did do it several times over the course of the last few months to study some patterns and come to conclusions about the true possibilities latent within the art scarves for sale just outside the galleries.

1, “The Met Welcomed More Than 7 Million Visitors in Fiscal...,” The Met Press, July 10, 2019, http://www.metmuseum.org/press/ news/2019/fy-2019-attendance.


It’s easy to criticize objects commonly found in art museum stores, but especially so when their value hinges on the recognition of a famous artist who’s connection to the housing institution is tangential at best. Common––and often European––subjects like our friend Van Gogh and his work are common culprits for tacky “art gifts” found in gift shops around the world. Anywhere from Poughkeepsie to Paris, you can find heatsensitive mugs that reveal a missing ear and socks that place the white-hot inner circle of the crescent moon in Starry Night just above the inner ankle. Despite their apparent global popularity, most of the items that leverage Van Gogh imagery don’t seem to innately have a lot of value outside of being conversation starters.


Souvenirs generally aren’t taken seriously as having much to do with the larger museum experience, either, as much as they are seen to capitalize on it. For example, when I walked out of the Van Gogh Museum without even pausing to contemplate a postcard in the gift shop, I took it as a sign of growth. I was above such superficial pursuits. But I’ve since come to learn it was exactly the same type of objects I had learned to belittle that led me to have such a personal relationship with the late Dutch post-impressionist painter at all. The same gift store objects I had spent the majority of my adult life poking fun at were, in reality, the objects that initiated my relationship to Van Gogh, his story, and sunflowers that eventually brought me to tears. In Defense of Tchotchkes As someone who identifies as a lifelong worshiper of high culture, it would be putting it mildly to say that it wasn’t easy for me to accept the potential of art museum tchotchkes––what most people might simply call junk––for sale in museum gift stores. Yet, in hindsight, I realize I spent most of my youth surrounded by them. Showing an early interest in making art and going to the museum inspired every nearby adult to keep the gift of art in mind at every possible opportunity. If it wasn’t art supplies under wrapping paper every holiday season or birthday, it was something that nodded towards the notion of my desire to be an artist by leveraging the imagery of the heavy hitters throughout history. Most notably featured amongst my own collection of items that embodied the likes of my favorites, like Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, was a one Vincent van Gogh. From a series of Starry Night (1889) themed sketchbooks to a fullbody movable magnet of a red-headed man holding paint brushes that I used to arrange as a sort of saint preaching to the other characters on the fridge, my collection grew in scope and absurdity. Eventually, I was surrounded.


These objects didn’t occur to me, though, when I originally tried to trace the origin of the moment I had in Amsterdam––largely because I didn’t want them to. But also, I think, because they’re not designed to stand out as vehicles of reverence. Rather, the kitsch on the shelf of the art museum gift store is made to both subtly reference something meaningful and neatly fit into shoppers’ everyday lives. Not unlike the beaded rosaries of traditional religion, they function to distill large and mysterious forces into something you can hold in the palm of your hand or wear around your neck. Though, perhaps more akin to a bobblehead figurine of Jesus, most things in the museum store seemingly exist to inspire a laugh for those who are in on the joke, if not elegantly blend into the scenery of life at home as fine jewelry or decor. It is fitting, then, that the definition and understanding of numinous experience is one rooted in religious studies. Popularized by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his influential The Idea of the Holy, the numinous experience is one that he defined as “arousing spiritual or religious emotion.” Otto, alongside American psychologist William James, initiated the first two comprehensive studies of the internal experience of the divine and determined that the vast majority of human beings have experienced a feeling of spiritual mystery that they outlined as being comprised of several elements. Most markedly, they refer to a sense of a mysterious power which is “beyond and incomprehensible.” 2 Otto’s early definition of the numinous experience set the stage for further research in the context of awe inspiring moments in different settings, but wouldn’t enter the museum world until the early 2000’s when sociologists Catherine Cameron and John Gatewood conducted studies in museums and heritage sites. Roughly a decade later, Keirsten Latham initiated a set of studies examining personal relationships with objects on display in the museum based on Cameron and Gatewood’s work. Latham offered both a holistic model of numinous experiences in the museum and a detailed taxonomy for understanding a patron’s relationship with an authentic artifact 2, Rudolf Otto. The Idea of the Holy. Translated by John W. Harvey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923.


or work of art in a museum’s collection. To better understand the meaningful encounters that may occur between an object, a museum visitor, and the situation in which they come together, Latham interviewed individuals while visiting a museum of importance to them and outlined four themes that persisted: “unity of the moment, object link, being transported, and connections bigger than the self.” 3 Latham’s elements aren’t a far leap from the three dimensions Cameron and Gatewood suggested in their earlier work, but they are specific to individual objects within a museum collection. Her elements shed some light on why I might have been so moved in that moment, particularly given the circumstances that did bring me to that cushioned bench in front of one of Van Gogh’s many sunflower paintings that fateful day.

3, Kristen F. Latham, “The Poetry of the Museum: A Holistic Model of Numinous Museum Experiences,” Museum Management and Curatorship 22, no. 3 (2007): 247–63.


Connections Bigger Than the Self Even to most fans of Van Gogh, the sunflower painting I encountered doesn’t have anything ostensibly special about it––it is one of many he produced in his lifetime and the only one that the museum dedicated to his life’s work happens to own. In the late summer of 1888, Van Gogh began painting sunflowers and continued into the following year with works showing sunflowers in all stages of life, from full bloom to withering, in vases and laid on their sides in small piles. Famous collections around the world identify each variation with a range of qualifiers like “third version, blue green background” or “replica of the second version, dark blue background.” But, in terms of the yellow composition I encountered in Amsterdam, there are a total of five similar works spread around the world, from Philedephlia to Tokyo. Still, each one of Van Gogh’s sunflower compositions are rare and carry the fame attached to their maker’s name. Though I didn’t realize it at first, I inadvertently made a pilgrimage to pray before an icon in the form of sunflowers at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Musing for a while on how strange it is that someone who was famously so depressed about his lack of success now has a whole museum dedicated to him, I made my way through each gallery in a sort of trance until I stumbled upon them. Art history classes had equipped me with the background knowledge that Van Gogh painted many sunflowers in varying states of well being and development that summer in Arles. A quote pasted on a nearby wall found in a letter to Paul Gauguin read “I have the sunflower, in a way,” There was a reason why art historians have likened these paintings to being a kind of self-portrait series; Rather than a simple portrayal of flowers propped up cheerily in a vase, I felt I was seeing a snapshot of Vincent himself at the time he painted it––composed, bright, and patiently awaiting the arrival of his good friend Gauguin, whose opinion mattered dearly to him. It was a stark contrast to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1887) painting I had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art years before. With a smaller and darker composition, it features two sunflower stocks laid rather unceremoniously on their side. That room had 13

been crowded, full of passersby drifting from one famous name to the next and glazing over the rest. That darker, more somber still life had––funnily enough––been easy for myself to pass by alongside other visitors without feeling called to pause. But, on a sunny spring day in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh museum, the room was still. I could hear each breath I drew while the intimacy of the moment sunk in. Alone and incredibly predisposed to find some of myself in Van Gogh, I became transfixed. I felt the growing pains of trying to find your own voice while also trying to win the affection of someone who you deeply admire; of willing yourself to be happy through the sheer power of lightcolored brilliance layered on thicker than hundred-year-old oil paint. It was beautiful, devastating, and all too much for me to handle at once while standing upright. According to Latham’s criteria, I categorically had a numinous encounter with a museum object. At a museum that was clearly already of some importance to me, I felt transported in time through the connections I was able to make with the bright petals resting in my line of vision. But, upon deeper reflection, it’s also clear that the majority of that awe-inspiring moment was latent inside me before I even made it to the museum. I had spent my whole life accumulating the pieces of a complex puzzle that finally came together in an instant. Years of tacit exposure, some brief focused study, and contemplation of the painting in-person enabled me to make a “connection bigger than the self.” But still, I wondered––if this experience was hidden somewhere inside me all along––why hadn’t I felt compelled to pour over this information online before, or moved every time I saw a reference to Van Gogh’s sunflowers elsewhere out in the wild? Having the seeds planted for me allowed my love of art history the chance to grow into something uniquely mine. The art gifts I collected over the years bearing Van Gogh imagery were ultimately less about representing his story as an artist and more about identifying myself. Having an added education around Van Gogh’s own life story certainly built my connection to him and his work, but it was initiated by receiving gifts that embodied the ideals of “being an artist” that allowed me to paint a picture of myself as a sort of kindred spirit. These objects, given as gifts, helped me to see myself 14


through the eyes of others based on what they believed I would like. Not only did they mediate my relationship with art and the past, but also amplified my own slowly forming identity as someone who cares to know a great deal about both. Constellations of Connection Experiences like the one I had in Amsterdam is perhaps a good example of why art museums seem to have an underlying, societally agreed upon status as important. In her most recent study from 2016, Latham found that the numinous experience she had studied in museums could be considered a type of psychological flow, or one in which the subject is fully immersed in a given activity of their choosing. Those who attain flow have been proven to develop a stronger, more confident self because more of their psychic energy has been invested in goals they themselves chose to pursue. Thus, she concludes, numinous experiences with museum objects actually might increase quality of life when they are achieved. 4 Unfortunately, the majority of visitors in the art museum don’t always have the opportunity to form strong personal relationships with household names like Van Gogh as much as they are offered a simple familiarity by proxy of their celebrity. The museum’s role in collecting, safeguarding, and displaying artwork for the public is layered with complexity, in that institutions often dictate the names we are able to remember at all. In the context of the market, this is where the retail initiatives within the museum start to look particularly insidious. In capitalizing on the same meaningful relationships their parent institutions aim to facilitate, the intentions of the art museum store become increasingly tempting to write off altogether. Before taking the time to consider the potential of these stores and the items within them, I believed that they functionally lessened the value of the gallery experience in making it more bite-sized. But I’ve come to realize that allowing ownership, even in small 4, Kristen F. Latham, “Psychological Flow and the Numinous Museum Experience,” University of Michigan Working Papers in Museum Studies: Number 11 11 (2016): 4-6.


ways, creates more chances to form personal relationships. Designed objects in the gift shop serve to extend the value found in the art museum, if not enable it in the first place. Art tchotchkes generally help individuals better understand themselves as art lovers, but also hold the potential to reinforce the value they expect to find at the art museum, even via the pixelated print of Van Gogh’s glorious brushstrokes onto the underside of a cheaply-made umbrella. Objects from the museum store hold the promise to––if nothing else––inspire further inquiry. At their best, though, I’ve come to see them as anchor points in the constellation of connections one might hope to find at the art museum. Individually, they may not mean much. But, when connected, the outline of a believer becomes illuminated.



2. Making a Mascot: The Curious Case of William the Hippo William Who? Encompassed by a symphony of camera clicks and coos in other languages, a fellow named William stares past his onlookers as if in deep thought. His pedestal in Gallery 111 of the Egyptian Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been his home for the last one hundred years—a fairly modest one for a figure that has come to represent one of the most priceless collections of art in the modern era. Of all the faces in the Met’s collection of roughly one point five million objects, though, William alone bears the title “Unofficial Mascot.” The four-thousand-year-old blue hippopotamus figurine is leveraged by the Met as an icon and exalted alongside several other characters at the museum store on magnets, socks, and even boxers. Still, he remains unfazed, perhaps because the last century has simply been one tick of the second hand in the span of his millennia. While it’s unlikely that his ancient world contemporaries in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt could have anticipated his future fame, William is speculated to have been made with the intention of being reborn in one way or another. Circa1950 B.C, the Nile River was the source of life for the ancient Egyptians and framed the creatures and plants that resided amongst it as deeply powerful. Observed to live above and below the water line in the swamps of the Nile, hippos and the blooming lotus flowers around them were also connected to the rise and fall of the sun, which represented the forces of life and death. Laden with several layers of meaning, hippo figurines were often crafted out of faience, a ceramic material made of ground blue quartz, to be buried in the tombs of well-to-do Egyptians as stewards of prosperity and protection in the afterlife.


After a century in New York City, William the Hippo has come to symbolize something quite different, and a small but mighty contingent of his friends are positioned to do just the same. Today, there are roughly forty surviving hippos just like him from the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt that can be seen on display in famous collections around the globe from Berlin to Brooklyn. But the somber face of one particular hippo plastered all over merchandise at the Met store seems to be the only one with a name and a hashtag on Instagram. Taken from the darkness of his owner’s tomb and into the spotlight of his display case, William’s stumpy body has been recontextualized by the sands of time to represent the institution he is housed in above his roots in the Nile River. His place in the Met’s collection has secured him a full rebrand from funerary object to mascot— unofficial or otherwise.


Why William? Since his arrival at the Met, William has been a crowd favorite with visitors and one of the most notorious characters in the retail division of the museum. Unearthed from a tomb at Meir in Upper Egypt in May 1910, he was donated to the museum by Edward S. Harkness, a trustee of the Museum, in 1917.1 But he wouldn’t rise to fame under his current Anglo-Saxon name until fourteen years later in 1931, when an Englishman by the name of Hilary Mason Raleigh, writing for the British magazine Punch, shared a story about his presence in their home. During a trip to New York, he purchased a framed poster of the friendly figurine that would end up serving as the family oracle of sorts. In his story, Raleigh references a particularly terrible vacation they decided to go on despite the disapproving gaze of their wise hippopotamus prophet as the driving force in solidifying their faith in his silent consultation. Infatuated by the hippo his family had nicknamed and come to deeply admire, Raleigh wrote that “if ever an animal was in tune with the infinite, it is William.” 2 Like most successful icons, William is easy to fall for because his story is one of redemption. Excavated from a tomb at a time when the Western world was becoming increasingly interested in capitalizing ancient wonders, he initially appealed to collectors as a funerary furnishing that––quite literally––added some color to education around the traditions and rituals around death in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Acquired as a gift to the museum, he is only one of several hundred items included in the burial equipment associated with the Steward Senbi II of Mier. However, unlike many of the artifacts uncovered from that site and others like it in the early 20th century, William was presented to a cosmopolitan audience as an unlikely survivor, standing tall despite clear signs of injury and repair.

1, Isabel Stünkel and Kei Yamamoto, “How William the Hippo Got His Name,” Now at the Met, September 2017, metmuseum.org/ blog/now-at-the-met/2017/how-william-hippo-got-his-name. 2, Hilary Mason Raleigh, “William,” Punch, London: March 18 1931.


In celebration of his one hundredth year at the Met in 2017, the Department of Objects Conservation took an in-depth look to confirm some assumptions about his material and modern reconstruction. William, like many of the other faience hippo figurines spread around the world today, shows evidence of being damaged shortly after his initial creation.3 Egyptologists suppose that the legs of hippo figurines were often broken as a precautionary measure for the deceased, since hippos, just as they were revered to hold magical properties, were also known to cause more harm than good to living Egyptians. William was no exception to this policy, and three of his four legs have been confirmed to be modern restorations made well before his arrival at the museum that enable him to stand upright. In his second life––and set of legs––on display at the Met, William has been reborn as a regal symbol of being cultured. 3, Hippopotamus (“William”) Ca. 1961–1878 B.C., The Met Collection, metmuseum.org. https://www.metmuseum.org/en/art/collection/search/544227


All the surviving blue hippos of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom have roughly the same story attached to them, but their level of popularity in the modern world depends on how they are spun. The hippo figurine owned by the Brooklyn Art Museum, for example, is displayed upside down with it’s broken leg stumps exposed for all to see. The tale of the blue hippo in that institution is framed to be more about its place in history. William, on the other hand, is positioned in a stance that simultaneously assumes more authority and makes him more relatable as a character. The Met––second only to the Louvre in scale and hosting the largest quantity of ancient Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo itself––highlights William as a representative of their collection for a reason. He is seemingly healed and happy in his new home. His cool, collected gaze is all too easy to get lost in when guests can catch a glance of their own face reflected alongside his in the glass between them. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he is also easy to market towards children and their parents as an animal with a name and a back story, either. William’s popularity could be chalked up to his innate ability to steal hearts, but it would be a mistake to not credit the impact retail has had on his enduring role as the blue face of the Met. Retail Relationships To know William is to have been educated about him at the Met, and to sport him on a pin or host a replica of him as a desk ornament is to comprehend his allure as a symbol of a mysterious time gone by. But how did his image, along with that of other famous artifacts and art pieces at the Met become synonymous with the grandeur of the institution’s collection? The answer is more complex than a presumed popularity contest and begins with the rise of consumer culture and merchandise reproduction in the context of the art museum. The Met, which has been selling retail goods to visitors since 1871, issued some of their first full-color posters to feature William in the early 1930’s. This initial wave


of posters allowed his striking blue image to circulate in a way it never had before, including across oceans with international fans like the writer Hilary Mason Raleigh. Shortly after catching wind of Raleigh’s story of the poster’s power in his own home, the museum republished it in their monthly bulletin later that same year. By 1935, the Met had formally updated the name card of the Egyptian figurine to read “Hippopotamus (William)” as they started ramping up internal publications and promotional material. Just one year later in 1936, the Met would release one of their first publications geared towards children entitled William and his Friends: A Group of Notable Creatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book is an early example of leveraging the newly established market for admirable animal figures found throughout art history. Though none of the other featured creatures would stand the test of time quite like William has, the publication opened the door to a new type of playful storytelling in art museums that still thrives today––as educational material in the galleries and objects in the gift store. However, In the context of the blue hippo’s more recent retail popularity, William merchandise begs the question: What are visitors really buying into when they take home a reproduction of his skeptical gaze? Replicas, Reproductions, and Representations Over the decades, William has proved irresistible to the Met’s reproduction team. The Met first began selling cast reproductions of William in the 1950s, with a later surge in popularity in the 60s when they started manufacturing through a craftsman in rural Pennsylvania called M. Hart Pottery. Individually made, each reproduction held a certain level of uniqueness to it, and the Met quickly started commissioning blue hippos in other arrangements, like the unique artifact housed in Geneva that is the only surviving ancient Egyptian hippo figurine crafted with its body turned and mouth opened. The figurines showed steady sales throughout the last half of the 20th century, but eventually the Met gave way to artisanal crafting and started increasing the mass-reproduction of porcelain replicas.



Since the turn of the century, other museums have taken a note from William’s popularity and started reproducing their own versions of blue hippo replicas and merchandise with varying levels of success. Most notable amongst this group of institutions is the Louvre in Paris, which, like the Met, sells blue hippo figurines, magnets, and plush toys at their store. Interestingly enough, the version that sells the best seems to look more like William than the hippo housed in their collection, with an open lotus design on its side and four distinctly separate legs. It could be argued that the proliferation of educational material around cute creatures in museum collections demanded a plush companion to help kids connect to the material more. But most are happy to simply call it what it is––capitalizing on cuteness.


The children’s section at any gift store is known to be one of the best selling categories largely because many of the objects for sale are often oriented around enrichment.4 But William, unlike his other blue counterparts spread around the globe, has had a strong presence on merchandise made for a more general audience at the Met since the 1950s. Today, from neckties to tub toys, he appears to still be a crowd favorite in the store for audiences of all ages. Alongside other famous pieces in the Met’s collection, William holds prominence in all of the museum’s various retail divisions, but he’s still the only one with a nickname and a formal title. A perfect storm of well-timed articles and product launches seem to have ensured William longevity in the hearts of visitors that make it to the Fifth Avenue Mecca from far and wide. But what prompted him to stand out of the Egyptian Wing to represent the entirety of the museum’s famous collection? Is it all in a name? A title? Mascots, Memory, and Imagination Putting all the unknown mysteries of the universe aside, one must wonder if Hilary Mason Raleigh could have imagined how his family’s story would take the traditional funerary object out of the afterlife and into the Met Store as successfully as it did. Since adopting his popular nickname in 1931, William has been given a contemporary means of coming alive as a personality in the galleries and for sale in the store. William is not only a perfect example of typical funerary furnishing from his era of ancient Egypt, but also of how art institutions build and maintain relationships with the public through leveraging iconic imagery in their collection in retail and online initiatives. The store enables guests to take something of the experience home with them, to select and choose a physical item to hold the memory of visiting that museum. The museum, as an institution, has the influence to dictate which objects they highlight and offer in this setting, but it’s ultimately the individual who selects what will stand as a placeholder

4, Chris Michel, “By the Numbers,” Museum Store Association Retail Industry Report, January 2016


for the experience in their own homes, if they so choose. Rather than in the store or the Met itself, it’s ultimately William’s presence in the personal lives of museum goers that gives him power as a symbol. His recurring image is facilitated by the museum, but he is contextually endowed with deeper meaning when he makes it outside the museum. Though he may be the most memorable, William isn’t the only creature with the title “mascot” at a famous art museum. The lions outside the Chicago Art Institute, for example, have stood regal outside their home at the Chicago art Institute since 1894 and been reproduced in multitudes in the museum store as bookends, plush toys, and jewelry. The duo is a mainstay of the city they reside in, often bearing adornment for holidays throughout the years and serving as a coded image of themselves to represent the heart of Chicago. Modeled by the sculptor Edward Kemeys, and weighing more than two tons each, they were described by Kemeys himself as “on the prowl.” Replicas and representations of the pair can be seen anywhere from the museum itself to the news stand at the local airport. As with the lions, William merchandise has been positioned to idealize something much more difficult to quantify than the institution he is associated with––an individual’s personal connection to the cultural sphere itself. Symbiosis of Symbols The Met may have had a part in proliferating its mascot’s image, but it’s clear that the museum also relies on visitor buy-in to transactionally give their mascot power. This phenomena is highlighted through the recent example of the 2017 exhibition titled Conversation between Two Hippos meant to commemorate William’s one hundredth anniversary at the museum. Moved for the first time in a century, William was positioned across from a work of art made by Carl Walters in 1936 inspired by his likeness as somewhat of a publicity stunt. The museum took the occasion to reflect William’s fame in the store as well, producing more blue hippo merchandise than ever before in his hundred-year-long run on display. Several years after the show, there are still troves of William related items sold in the gift shop. With the museum celebrating its one hundred


and fiftieth anniversary in 2020, a resurgence of popular characters have made their way onto tote bags and memorabilia next to the newly minted Met150 logo. For a mascot, though, William maintains a relatively low profile outside of those in the know. Today, he is most commonly referenced on the Met Store’s Instagram page during #WilliamWednesdays, wherein store staff often hold a replica of William merchandise in front of other museum ongoings. There is a clear attempt at social media engagement catered to art history buff’s who, much like Raleigh and his family, seem to revere William with an intensity “bordering on the pagan.” .5 Some museum guests even post photos of the original William in the museum, citing his age and relevance in a quippy caption. But most seem more apt to broadcast how lovely a copy of him looks in the context of their daily lives. The curve of William’s presence online may have peaked during his centennial anniversary, but also continues to steadily plateau. The Met’s social media accounts––which have ongoing viewership widely surpassing that of their already astounding average of six and a half million visitors per year––continues to keep William a mainstay for fans wherever they may be. 6 5, Hilary Mason Raleigh, “William,” Punch, London: March 18 1931. 6, “The Met Welcomed More Than 7 Million Visitors in Fiscal...,” themetmuseum.org/press, July 10, 2019, http://www.metmuseum. org/press/news/2019/fy-2019-attendance.



In more recent history, William’s striking blue image has been seared into the collective memory of all who make the journey to the Met. Through careful orchestration, William’s image has spread and boosted the fame of his Middle Kingdom counterparts across the world. The Met’s blue hippo has been exposed just enough to deepen connections with loyal fans and build curiosity for potential ones while the original remains somewhat unceremoniously displayed in the Egyptian Wing amongst thousands of other objects. The distinctive power that William replicas, re-creations, and representative items hold over the original is the fact that guests can take them home and make them their own. This simple act allows individuals to embody their own personal versions of him with memories and connections that confirm the fact that they’re in on the secret. William’s ability to transcend his own past––as a mascot of the Met or even ancient Egypt––has reincarnated his image as a symbol for the unique relationships museum patrons have to art and the past. In the museum store, William helps individuals confirm or construct an understanding of themselves in the relation to the museum itself. It’s either that, or he simply looks incredible on a tote bag.



3. Evidence of Life Well-Lived: the Evolution of the MoMA Design Store Getting to Good A Butterup Knife lifts wasps of churned cream while the mouth-blown crystal of an Aalto vase gently undulates around freshly cut lilies before a brightly colored backdrop. All is well in the perfect world of the Design Store at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The highly curated retail initiative is an elegant evolution of its predecessor, the traditional museum store. Gift shops in art museums generally offer patrons the ability to take home various institutional ideals. In MoMA’s case, however, their online store and six retail locations1 have become the site of carefully orchestrated repositioning that aims to extend and sell one notion in particular––what the museum calls Good Design. Historically, MoMA has been a catalyst in elevating design through an institutional perspective, if not defining what “good,” means in relation to it. Since forming the world’s first curatorial department devoted to Architecture and Design in the 1930s, the museum was the first to formally collect objects from everyday life and put them on a pedestal to illustrate an evolving definition of modernity. But, while “good” is descriptive enough to assert the museum’s view of quality, it is also vague enough to allow room for interpretation. The ostensibly simple word prompts quick acceptance when placed in front of any noun by a famous, genre-defining institution. The curatorial eminence at MoMA has established its reputation not only as an institution, but also as a powerful brand, or entity that can be identified for both its product and its ethos. The museum was also among the first to frame its retail division as an extension of their collection. The rigor famously brought to the selection of what the museum––as a brand––will make, sell and, by extension, promote is on par with 1, Three stores in New York City, including the store within the museum, across the street on 53rd St, and SoHo. The three locations outside of New York are across the world in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hong Kong.


that of the curatorial departments that work with permanent collections. As a result, the intersection of institutional weight and painstakingly hand-picked catalog of design objects has framed the MoMA Design Store as the functioning gold standard of taste. Since its formal opening in 1989, the Design Store has operated as a distinct entity from other retail initiatives within the museum while still benefiting from MoMA’s credibility. While the museum increasingly acquires designs for their collection that seek to expand their working definition of Good Design through contemporary notions of sustainability and technological innovation, the Design Store has come to maintain the museum’s own historic precedent of “good” reliant on consumer culture. Today, the MoMA Design Store is not so much a museum store as it is an institution of its own. If the museum has the authority to write its own rules, the role of the store is then to market them to the masses. But, in a time where design––as a discipline––is recognized as having deeper potential, this is exactly what has caused a division between the design collection at MoMA and the store intended to extend it. Since the museum’s modest beginning as a six-room suite, directors and merchandisers alike have known that not all design innovations are marketable to the public, but a life worth living always will be.


Mediating Modernity It only took several months for retail activity to begin after the doors to the museum opened on the twelfth floor of the Heckscher Building in November 1929. Soon after their first successful loan exhibition that displayed paintings by the likes of Paul Cezanne and Georges Seurat, the museum made its first retail sales in the spring of 1930. At the behest of the museum’s first director, Alfred H. Barr Jr., the museum made maps and frames available for purchase to the wealthy patrons who asked for them. Over the course of the successive decade, the museum would be housed in three temporary locations due to unreliable funding before finding its current home at 11 West 53rd Street. Still, the MoMA name continued to gain traction in the New York City cultural sphere with the help of socialites and philanthropists like Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Paul J. Sachs.2 In 1939, the museum was able to open the 53rd Street location to the public and cement its status as a leader in the museum space with a now famous Picasso retrospective curated by Barr himself. The inauguration featured an opening address from then President Franklin D. Roosevelt who referred to the freshly minted space as a “citadel of civilization.” 3 With more recognizable names on the guests list and the curatorial calendar, the museum wasted little time cashing in on its newly established eminence after a financially rocky start. Among the earliest initiatives to spread the MoMA brand was the museum’s Christmas Christmas Card program formally started in 1940. Started as a simple internal effort to leverage connections and make a few dimes for the museum, the limited edition prints were quick to garner an elite crowd of loyal consumers keen on making it a holiday tradition. In the short span of two years, the program catapulted the museum’s stationary production into national relevance and established a demand for artfully crafted, one-of-a-kind prints that bore the MoMA name. By 1942, a reported thirty thousand cards were sold in the crowded lobby in December. 2, Bernice Kert, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family, New York: Random House, 1993 3, “Roosevelt’s address on The Museum of Modern Art, as printed in the Herald Tribune on May 11, 1939,” MoMA Online Archive, 1939, www.moma.org/research-and-learning//archives-highlights-04-1939.


The Picasso retrospective and the demand for its accompanying material may have been the first time the museum saw a market for printing catalogs related to ongoing exhibitions. But it would be the success of selling museum-printed holiday cards featuring up-and-coming or notorious designers that would instigate the additional printing of hundreds of other pieces in the museum’s permanent collection. When the biggest blockbuster pieces became available as postcards, color reproductions, and lantern slides, the east corridor on the ground floor was quickly repositioned by Barr as a makeshift retail space to “relieve extreme congestion” at the front desk.4 Barr, an entrepreneurial spirit, was always one to instigate innovation where it was due. In the tradition of breaking the mold, Barr would later appoint two prominent Modernist architects, Philip C. Johnson and Edgar J. Kaufmann, to be the first directors of the Departments of Architecture and Industrial Design, respectively. At the end of the first decade on 53rd Street in 1949, the two departments would merge as the Department of Architecture and Design. Under the continued leadership of Kaufmann, the new department would lead the museum to––officially––cast its curatorial eye towards modern design in a broader context. At the same time, the rise of consumer culture in the decade following World War II influenced an influx of product innovation and sales. These two phenomena gave rise to the museum’s emerging perspective on the relationship between curation and retail that Kaufmann would later evangelize. If Good Design is MoMA’s credo today, Kaufmann was its first clergyman in the 1950s. At the time, “good design” was a ubiquitous term used widely in advertising and magazines that simultaneously eluded and comforted the average consumer. In his 1950 text, What is Modern Design?, Kaufmann was eager to shape postwar consumer culture and essentially repositioned the word “good” to be synonymous with “modern.” Based on the standards of “fair function, construction, and price” in addition to “eye appeal,” 5 Kaufmann advocated for MoMA’s own brand of Good Design to lean on 4, “Minutes Of The Forty-first Meeting of The Coordinating Committee held in the trustees room of the museum on Thursday, December 30, 1942 at 11:30am,” Museum of Modern Art Archives, 2. 5, Edgar J. Kauffman Jr., What is Modern Design?, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1950.


elements outside of aestheticism. During his tenure, Kaufmann set forth various Good Design initiatives in the form of exhibitions put on from 1950-1955 that gave way to a discernible maturation of the museum’s curatorial strategy. Kaufmann, rather than exclusively cataloging work actually instigated competitions––of printed textiles in 1946, low-cost furniture in 1948, and lighting in 1950––that stimulated an output of new material and added to the museum’s public image as a champion of everyday objects. Any object could be put on a pedestal as long as it met a certain criteria. While the Architecture and Design department continued to make a name for itself throughout the 1950s and 60s through product innovation, so did the Christmas Card Program. Cards sold around the holidays were so popular that the museum started commissioning other stationery programs in partnership with their growing collection and network of well-known artists and designers. As early as 1953, cards would be available over mail-order and distributed to stores across the country, slowly spreading the MoMA brand outside of New York City to the countryside via catalog.



Over the next decade, retail offerings continued to blossom while the museum went under construction for expansion in May of 1984. By this time, there were over two thousand design objects in the museum’s collection and the store catalog offered approximately two hundred products, roughly half of them including the line description “represented in the collection.” While refining a selection of artworks in the collection to prominently reproduce and use on stationary, such as Henri Matisse’s La Danse, the museum also ramped up wholesale ordering of objects represented in the design collection. These products, like the Finnish-designed Aalto vase that is still popular and artisanally crafted by Iittala factory in Helsinki to this day, allowed the museum to build strong relationships with craftsmen around the globe. The museum called all who were willing to produce artisanal products that “embody modernism” 6 and spent the next thirty years refining their standards for who might be able to represent the developing MoMA brand. During the last two decades of the 20th century, retail at MoMA benefited greatly from the museum’s expansion and did some of its own. Occupying more space than it ever had before in 1984, retail operations accounted for over eight thousand square feet of the museum, including the ground floor, lower level of the renovated East Wing, and the annex on 53rd Street. But, as the number of items that re-created artworks in MoMA’s collection––like posters, cards, and stationary––and designed objects that represented Good Design––housewares, toys, and tools––grew each year, so did the dissonance between them occupying the same space. A Marketplace of Ideas The early success of the Christmas Card Program displayed a clear market for goods that were connected to the ideals of the museum without necessarily serving as a souvenir of a visit. Rather than responding to a perceived need in the marketplace, MoMA, in fact, created the demand for a new one-of-a-kind, artistically designed suite of 6, “The Museum’s Stores” MoMA Archives, 3.


goods. Unlike the conventional museum gift store popularly known for offering overpriced souvenirs to commemorate the art museum experience, the MoMA Design Store was designed to do something else altogether. Intending to bridge the gap between the everyday person and the design collection, a store dedicated to selling MoMA’s brand of Good Design ensured that anyone in New York could participate, experience, and believe in the museum’s curatorial voice––without even stepping foot in the museum. In 1989, the museum opened the first MoMA Design Store across the street, which dedicated a full three thousand square feet to retail outside of the museum. Initial offerings were described in the press release as “an expanded selection of home furnishings; small design objects for the home, office, and travel use; tools; toys; and personal accessories” as well as “authorized versions of furniture and lighting designs.” 7

Several years later in 1995, the MoMA bookstore would receive a renovation after

the hugely successful Matisse exhibition in 1992-93, which showed the museum “the potential of such a facility” and gave them “the confidence to explore new products.” 8 It was clear that reproductions of works featured in blockbuster shows would still sell well as posters, books, and publications. But these types of products would later simply become a product category for the Design Store as objects that represented the ideals of Good Design continued to outperform them. In 1996, the museum launched its website and began claiming more digital territory. With humble beginnings as a blog page highlighting new arrivals in the store in 1999, the online effort initially operated largely as an “extension” of the mail-order catalog. That site was replaced in 2001 with store.moma.org that happened to launch the same year the museum opened the doors to another Design Store retail location in SoHo. As the Design Store continued to grow an online presence and open other locations around New York City and the world––in Japan and Hong Kong––it was able to reinforce a brand voice as 7, Louise Chinn, All Staff Memo, MoMA Archives, Retail: Design Store Folder, dated November 2, 1989 8, Nicholas Boulard, “Focus on the MoMA Bookstore,” MoMA Archives, Retail: Design Store Folder, Art Business News, internally published interview with Kara Orr, Paper Products Manager at MoMA January 1,1996.



the be-all end-all of what constitutes Good Design. Today, the Design Store’s prolific Instagram presence describes the business as “curator approved designs for everyday living� and currently boasts over one hundred and fifty thousand followers.


The Design Store became a burgeoning force through the early aughts enhanced by the rapid increase and availability of online sales. However, while other retailers dedicated to curating and commodifying “good design” have all but vanished or moved entirely online, the MoMA Design store has a unique qualifier that’s set it up for success since the very beginning––a view of the museum from across the street. Elevation, Evolution, and Innovation Since its inception, MoMA has sought to document and respond to important developments in the fields of art and design as they happen. Barr, as the first director, is famously quoted to have considered the museum like a “laboratory,” or institution that should stand to serve its mission through educational experimentation. This mindset has stayed with the museum and functioned as a foundational guidepost for all the museum’s curatorial activities, most notably for the Architecture and Design department and recent acquisitions and exhibitions in the last twenty years. Contemporary designers, like Neri Oxman of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), are increasingly multidisciplinary and tackling problems bigger than making the “perfect” tea kettle. As part of the Mediated Matter Group that she leads at MIT exploring innovative new materials, she led efforts on an additive manufacturing platform​​​​​​​​​​​​that can 3-D print glass in a variety of forms and degrees of opacity. As a featured artist in seven exhibitions presented by the Architecture and Design department, including 2020’s Material Ecology, Oxman and her team’s unconventional approach to novel design materials is a curatorial highlight. Translated to the retail experience, her work is engaged in more complex terms. Her work, afterall, is a process as much as it is a final product. To experience it is not just to hold an object in one’s own hands or see it before one’s own eyes, but also to engage with the process behind it––considering materials, methods, and making––as a radical, technological journey.


Design is, by definition, not art. But, that is not to say that it cannot be artful. The works from these exhibitions, acquired by the design collection represent contemporary notions about sustainable and inventive materials; they are also breathtaking, unique works of art in their own right. Each subsection of glass listed on the museum’s website, like all pieces in the collection, is photographed on a neutral gray background and bears a vague resemblance to the elegant Aalto vase the museum has long advertised in catalogs and online. On the plain background, they both elegantly curve and refract light quite nicely. Only, the 3-D printed subsections of glass by Oxman will never stand proud on a kitchen counter full of freshly cut flowers or be arranged alongside other mid-century modern treasures on a bright backsplash. Instead, in the galleries, Oxman’s subsections stand to represent something bigger than their captivating forms––material innovation. The notion of the museum having jurisdiction over public opinion on art and design being “fine” or “good” is nothing new. As sociologist Sharon Macdonald writes, “museums can be seen as presenting us with an officially sanctioned account of the importance of objects.” Putting something on a pedestal or including it in an exhibition at a museum holds weight – curators “tell us that objects matter, that they can be the stuff of important narratives about ourselves and others.” 9 As design exhibitions focus less on what most individuals might consider “traditional” design mediums, traces of more widely accepted notions of design can still be seen when retailers attempt to package that exhibition experience in the museum store. Collection Contexts When it comes to design objects owned by the museum, context is everything. The humble broom, the elegant vase, the protective bike helmet––all are elevated from their origins as everyday objects and honored by the museum’s curatorial touch. In the Design Store, however, these same objects are brought back down to size, as something more readily consumable. Having earned their status as gallery-worthy, they 9, Sharon J. Macdonald, “Museums, National, Postnational, and Transcultural Identities,” Anthology of Contexts 2, 2012, 3.


are then repositioned as both elevated and accessible. In fact, to purchase a Design Store object is to have one’s own status elevated, and one’s own taste credentialed. In this light, the store becomes another way of entering the museum, seeing the collection, and comprehending it in a more personal way––through consumption. Collections, by nature, are exclusionary. Not just anything gets to be a part of MoMA’s comprehensive design collection. Including objects from major movements of the 20th century alongside things that represent contemporary issues, everything fits under the same general curatorial guidelines established by the department over time. But, as this pattern has continued and evolved over time, the design process itself has also been increasingly elevated to a collectible status. Today, material tests, architectural plans, and paper maquettes are collected, conserved, and presented to illuminate significant innovations and tell a larger human story through the medium of design. The retailers at the Design Store take their criteria for object selection just as seriously as curators do, leaning on their guidance for the final go-ahead before anything goes up for sale. This played-up fact is perhaps what makes it easy to believe that the store still functions as a sort of extension of the museum’s mission, another gallery where audiences can actually take home the things curators have hand picked to be there. The foundational aspect that ties all items in MoMA’s design collection and for sale in the Design Store together––whether it is a historic item in the collection, made by a third party brand like Muji, or produced by the museum––is that Good Design must mean something outside of being beautiful. It relies on notions of newness, too. Each object stands out as something made special by its innovative production, function, or form. From a curatorial perspective, the museum doesn’t intend to purely document and respond to innovation as it happens, but instead to support, inspire and initiate it. In this way, not only does the museum actively seek to collect innovation, but it provides the means by which it can flourish. For the Design Store, though, the bottom line must be drawn a lot higher. There is no point in acquiring and selling items that will not sell. 45

Observing this selective translation from the galleries to a retail environment reveals that while the design collection at MoMA expands and contracts to include increasingly challenging material and ideas, the Design Store has had to instead refine their criteria for connecting audiences to it. Though, this process isn’t “one-size fits all” for the items in the collection or the store because, in the context of the market, the museum ultimately strives to make a profit. Rather than exclusively offering their audiences the chance to buy things found in the galleries, retail at MoMA has evolved to capture the modern ideals of the museum in other, more marketable ways. More often than not, the retail initiative of any cultural institution is not bothered so much with reinventing the wheel as much as it is serving the museum’s larger mission–– keeping the doors open. The Design Store has had a unique relationship with the Architecture and Design Department in being able to directly sell items the museum “owns” because they also happen to be mass produced objects. Internal product development and partnerships run by retail, on the other hand, are a bit less curator controlled and appear to be, like most initiatives that exist in the market, driven by consumer behavior and sales. Granted societal power as the arbiter of Good Design, The Design Store became less of an extension of the museum and more of a lifestyle brand built on the backbone of it. The appeal of a store or brand associated with traditional curators at a famous museum is that everything for sale is pre-approved to be there––connected to the museum in some way. The underlying assumption about objects for sale at the Design Store is that they are not only there for their aesthetic value, but for being integral to signaling a happier, more successful life. They’ve gone through a selective vetting process, presumably similar to the items in the collection that may not hold long standing relevance in a retail environment. While many of the items MoMA sells may not directly function as souvenirs of the museum experience itself, they inherently serve as evidence of having a connection to the museum in the first place. 46


Something to Strive For Institutional values can be packaged and sold in many forms, but seem to sell the best at MoMA when they are taken home in a pristine, alabaster-white MoMA-branded gift bag. Outside the physical setting of the museum, it would be a stretch to call a welldesigned lamp or piece of kitchenware a souvenir of a museum experience, even if it is an object technically represented in the design collection. In Souvenir, Rolph Plotts, writes that souvenirs are a “metaphor for how lived experience can endow most any object with personal significance.” But where does the line between sentimentality and personal identity sit? Is there a line between the two at all? There is no official litmus test for personal significance, and it could be argued that anything one takes with them from the museum experience has the potential to represent the memories one created during that time. Since the objects that are purchased at the Design Store bear the institutional weight of MoMA’s stamp of approval, it’s possible that they can serve to represent other associations with the museum, too––the larger relationship one has with MoMA as an institution, even if it isn’t directly married to physically spending time in the galleries at all. In this way, the objects from the Design Store at MoMA can be seen not as souvenirs of the museum experience, but instead as evidence of one’s awareness or recognition of MoMA as a cultural pundit. Great power, however, always comes with great responsibility. Other retail initiatives at art museums have followed MoMA’s lead in curating a selection of museum-worthy, accessible designed objects for sale in their stores. In well-respected cultural institutions the world over, consumers have learned to identify objects for sale at the art museum as a result of the museum’s curatorial rule-making, despite the fact that this connection is largely an arbitrary one. This established trend has made the typical museum store and the high price tags often found within them simultaneously easy to trust and to criticize.


There’s something thrilling, though, about walking into a store full of institutionally verified luxuries and feeling skeptical of their innate value. The cultural critic has the sense that they must tread lightly in retail environments like the MoMA Design Store. It’s tempting––human nature, even––to question authority when it establishes rules in the place of chaos. Yet, in questioning the authority of the store in the context of the art museum, one is always met with contradictions. There is no arguing that museum stores do, in fact, exist to support their museum’s mission in some way. Whether it is chiefly through economic means rather than ideological ones depends on personal interpretation. Defining what counts as “extending” the mission of the museum is subject to ongoing debate. But, over it’s thirty year evolution, the MoMA Design Store has not only enabled individuals to identify themselves through Good Design, but also given conventional museum stores something to strive for. The Design Store has figured out how to establish more power for itself and its museum as arbiters of what makes design “good” symbiotically, as opposed to prioritizing one at the expense of the other. Through careful curation and meticulous merchandising, a clear, color-coded path has been carved for the critic to tread through the gift shop safely––without asking too many questions along the way.


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Enter Through the Gift Shop: Designed Objects, Images, and Identity in New York City's Art Museums  

A package of four essays submitted as a Masters's thesis to the Department of Design Research, Writing, and Criticism at the School of Visua...

Enter Through the Gift Shop: Designed Objects, Images, and Identity in New York City's Art Museums  

A package of four essays submitted as a Masters's thesis to the Department of Design Research, Writing, and Criticism at the School of Visua...


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