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Art galleries have finally caught on to what museums have known for years—that while suggested donations (or, in the case of the former, four-digit-and-up purchases) are great and all, gift shops are where the real (or at least steady) money is. Maybe that's why so many of the art world's heavy hitters—like Gagosian and David Zwirner—are selling $15 artist-designed playing cards and sculptural $25 soaps steps away from multimillion-dollar Gerhard Richters. It's a merchandising trick straight from the fashion's playbook—Marc Jacobs may lure shoppers in with window displays full of runway looks, but he sends most of them out with key chains and perfumes.
Below, we've rounded up some of New York City's best semi-secret gallery gift shops, from a Brooklyn spot that specialize in museum-worthy plush toys, to a killer art book pop-up that's only around between shows. Come for the art, and stay for the $100 wall-mountable skate decks—the ones you can can casually mention you picked up at a gallery before your shooting your guest a "What, you don't collect art?" look.
You won't find any glossy white gallery walls here—the Gagosian gift shop is painted deep blue and red. As opposed to the gallery itself, hidden away on the fourth and fifth floors of its Upper East Side doorman building, the gift shop (which launched last year in its current space) has a storefront and a sign just like neighbors Sandro and Lisa Perry. There's even a classic rock soundtrack, which makes it seem as if it's...welcoming people in.
Sure, there's still a security guard, and the cashiers are young and impeccably dressed, but it's nice to know that Gagosian is curating a space that sells (relatively) affordable items by the same big-name artists who comprise its gallery roster. Some pieces of note: a special edition of a cookbook by Salvador Dali, Leica Camera exclusives, and a pair of silver boots by Jean Nouvel, which, according to the architect, reduce the concept of a shoe to its purest form.
976 Madison Avenue. Open Mon-Sat, 10am-7pm.
The Hole / (Blank) by Wallplay
The Hole is known for two important things (besides, you know, art)—serving PBR at its openings, and its in-gallery store (Blank) by Wallplay, which defines itself as "an ever changing concept shop where the identity of the space is taken over by artist and brand installations."
Laura O'Reilly, former associate director at The Hole, founded the gift shop in June 2013 to provide a forum for independent creatives. Selecting up-and-coming artists and designers for the space is her way of "giving back and building community."
The merch in (Blank) by Wallplay is often carefully coordinated with the art on the walls. Case in point: This past November, The Hole displayed weapons covered in gold leaf and anaconda skins (as a statement on the glamorization and trivialization of violence, maybe), while (Blank) offered gun-shaped felt pins.
312 Bowery. Open Mon-Sun, 12pm-7pm.
Paul Kasmin Gallery / PK Shop
Don't be shocked if the shop attendant says "hello" to you here. Amid the pursed lips and pervasive silence of the Chelsea galleries, a friendly greeting at Paul Kasmin's retail space is a welcome surprise. The store's interior is still the blinding, immaculate white of the galleries that surround it, but there's a certain warmth here, too. The shop just opened in this location at the beginning of November, and it still feels fresh and new.
The offerings themselves convey a sense of playfulness. A multicolored skate deck is on sale for a very reasonable $100, while LA-based art collective FriendsWithYou's smiling cloud lamp (pictured above) lights up the room. More mischievous are the coasters created by artist Nir Hod. The mirrored glass squares are lined with digitally printed white powder, and while Hod insists that "it's not about drugs or glamour," go ahead and see what your guests say as they set their wine glasses on a shiny surface with three thin white lines on it.
297 Tenth Avenue. Open Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm.
Yes, this Bond Street gallery and shop embodies most Brooklyn stereotypes—but in the most charming way possible. On a Saturday afternoon, you might encounter one of the owners, Albert Chau, staffing the front desk alongside his dog as other pooches roam the space. (You can follow Grumpy Bert's cute K9 visitors on the store blog.)
Art prints, handmade greeting cards, plush hamburgers and beer cans, printed tees, and mugs shaped like penguins and pandas are all for sale. Chau describes his aesthetic as "cutesy" and says that while he occasionally chooses merchandise from trade shows, he prefers randomly finding items online and buying from smaller, independent vendors.
The space consists of a large front room and a wide set of stairs that leads up to a second, couch-lined level, where you're welcome to curl up with one of the shop's chapbooks. Grumpy Bert also holds writing workshops, which are open to the public.
82 Bond Street, Brooklyn. Tues-Sat, 12pm-7pm; Sun, 12pm-6pm.
Bicoastal gallery Matthew Marks has been publishing books and catalogues since 1991. All center on the lives and works of its artists—a list that includes Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Ken Price, and Robert Gober.
While you can pick up the titles in the West 24th Street space, there's an even better (and cheaper) option. In 2013, Matthew Marks started publishing a free electronic edition of each new book to accompany the printed versions. Most feature exclusive audiovisual content—including studio interviews and unpublished archival recordings—and all are available free of charge on either iTunes or the Matthew Marks website.
According to a gallery representative, the main motivation behind the e-publishing was the gallery's realization that "the way people read is changing...a reader with a full shelf of books, or perhaps a student who cannot afford to purchase a print copy, can still access an electronic work." By offering its titles at no cost, Matthew Marks is expanding its reach beyond collectors to those who may have future influence in the art world as curators, academics, and critics.
523 West 24th Street. Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm.
David Zwirner Gallery has a reputation for innovative exhibits—this past year it's played host to a marshmallow factory and a robotic twerking doll (both pulled in massive crowds).
So it's no surprise that its new endeavor, David Zwirner Books, is also generating some buzz. The in-house publishing company, which launched during the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 in 2014, plans to put out between 15 and 20 titles per year. And while there's no designated store just yet, you can keep up with its pop-up shop plans on Instagram. —Alina Cohen
525 West 19th Street. Open Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm.