Here Are 11 Remarkable, Witty, and Utterly Unique Holiday Gifts You Can Buy from Museum Shops Across the USA
There's something for every kind of art lover.
The holiday gift-giving season is upon us. And where better to shop for that very special special person in your life, who demands something truly unique, than a museum gift shop?
Each year, museums churn out countless thoughtful one-offs to coincide with their various special exhibitions or to celebrate (and support) their missions. And in the age of the internet, the entire nation’s museum gift shops are at your disposal. But who has the time to surf them all?
That’s why, this year, we have combed the websites of institutions across the United States to locate the most unique items available. We’ve made sure to pick a variety of price points, too, from the ultra-affordable to the… well, let’s just say that not all of these gifts are for everyone. But they still make for great online window shopping! Enjoy.
Conceptual Art Bumper Sticker
Walker Art Center Shop
“Back by popular demand,” this bumper sticker is described as a “Walker classic.” Plus, it’s really quite clever.
Renaissance Maiolica Exhibition Coaster Set
Earlier this year, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, presented “Sharing Images: Renaissance Prints into Maiolica and Bronze,” an homage to “maiolica,” a tin-glazed earthenware that flourished in Renaissance Italy. This set of six intricately patterned drink coasters is inspired by designs from the collection of “copper king” William A. Clark (1839-1925), which the NGA recently acquired from the Corcoran collection.
Fortune Cat Art Socks
Asian Art Museum Store
Socks are a classic “meh” gift. But what if… they were art socks? This “Masterpiece” design, featuring an image of a waving “good fortune cat” (“maneki-neko“), is exclusive to the store of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. Purr-fect for the art and cat lover in your life.
Sweet Home Café Cookbook: A Celebration of African American Cooking
The tremendous popular success of the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC has been one of the indisputable top museum stories of recent years. Almost as big a sensation: the museum’s Home Sweet Home Café, which is about as loved as a museum café can be. This cookbook features 109 recipes from or inspired by Home Sweet Home’s celebration of African American cuisine, from pea tendril salad and Sénégalaise peanut soup to its own spin on Shrimp and Grits or Chocolate Chess Pie.
PAMM Didactic T-Shirt
An exclusive for the Pérez Art Museum Miami, this cheeky tee presents a museum-style wall label. Though it is described as “similar to those found next to an [sic] piece of art work,” wearing it actually constitutes its very own act of conceptual art. As the text concludes: “the performative yet banal act of wearing T-Shirt completes this piece.”
Barack Obama Portrait-Inspired Pocket Square
Probably the biggest art story of the year, of any kind, was the launch of Barack Obama’s presidential portrait by Kehinde Wiley and its accompanying portrait of first lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald. The popularity of the two portraits was such that Michelle’s had to be moved to a bigger gallery, while, all told, the furor helped double the National Portrait Gallery’s attendance for the year. And if you think the merchandising department is going to let all that attention go to waste, well, you are living in a very different USA than we are. In addition to the requisite T shirts, coasters, and fridge magnets, you can get this very dapper pocket square, inspired by the verdant background of Wiley’s unique Obama image.
The Vexed Man
The Getty Store
For the Franz Xaver Messerschmidt super-fan in your life, consider this one-to-one, resin-and-alabaster replica of the so-called Vexed Man (1771–1783), the wildly expressive “character head” and favorite from the Getty collection (on view in the LA museum’s West Pavilion). Think of the impression it will make coming out of the box!
Limited Edition Musical Revolving Peacock Egg
The description of this crystal-accented “Fabergé-style” music box boasts that it is “handmade from a genuine goose egg.” Turn the key and it will reveal a tiny peacock that rotates while playing the Gershwin standard Somebody Loves Me. The Smithsonian stocks it in homage to the famed “Peacock Room” by James McNeill Abbott Whistler at the Freer-Sackler Museum.
192 Dollar Bills Book
Whitney Museum Shop
For our money (haha!), this is the most creative of the all the merch available for the Whit’s infinitely merchandisable Andy Warhol show. Based, conceptually, on Warhol’s silkscreen painting of 192 dollar bills and offered in an edition of 192, New York artist Ben Denzer’s work has cranked the literal-ness up even further: This book’s pages are 192 actual one-dollar bills. (And since it is $384, that does mean you are paying $2 for every $1 you get. Art!)
Unicorn in Captivity Tapestry Wall Hanging
Metropolitan Museum Store
A museum gift shop classic: Based on the Met’s famed Unicorn Tapestries, this wool-and-cotton wall hanging is perfect for the true Cloisters-head in your family.
Lego Dreidel Sculpture
Jewish Museum Shop
A Jewish Museum shop exclusive, this behemoth Lego dreidel is advertised as a “showstopper,” and we have to agree. A black metal stand allows the colorful three-foot-tall mass of bricks to “gently turn,” so just don’t count on spinning it too vigorously.
Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Projects Complete MoMA Set
MoMA Design Store
American software mogul Peter Norton famously commissioned big-league artists to conceive his family Christmas card each year—and now, you can get the complete set of tiny high-concept editions, from 1989 to 2008. They include envelope-sized works by Daniel J. Martinez, Lawrence Weiner, Lorna Simpson, Vik Muniz (twice!), Yinka Shonibare, Christian Marclay, and more. It’s the priciest gift available on the MoMA gift store website, and perfect for the holiday season—if you have a spare $12,000 or so to throw around.
Just don’t forget to read the fine print: “Gift wrap not available.” “Limit 2 items per customer.” And watch that $500 delivery fee.
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