The next frontier for the art industry is merchandising—and I can prove it.
I’ve seen more development in this segment of the market recently than almost any other (aside from NFTs, but that’s different story). The art world and consumers are finally learning to accept the idea that art and retail can go hand in hand. Here’s what’s already happening and what to expect in the future.
The museums wade…
The Brooklyn Museum, the National Gallery in London, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. What do all these institutions have in common? They have all signed global licensing agreements over the past two years to create merchandise based on the works in their collections. The company Artisticfor example, which was founded in 2020, not only licenses museum designs to brands, but also creates museum merchandise itself.
Creating products is just the start. What museums are doing to market and sell their growing supply of merchandise is even more telling. To increase traffic to its gift shop, the Tate last year collaborated with artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman on a recovery of its sales area. The artist reimagined the store as an experiential space filled with newly produced neon artwork (for sale, of course!), a hand-selected music playlist, and a curated selection of books.
But why have a gift shop when you can have several? MoMA—which operates six stores, some of which are as far from New York as Japan and Hong Kong—announced last September that Nordstrom would begin selling its Design Store products in 10 outlets across the United States. The Victoria & Albert Museum, for its part, spear « The Grand Time Hotel” last year, an Art Deco-inspired pop-up store in Shanghai. With six separate rooms to navigate, the store became an immersive experience where consumers could shop for everything from scarves to iPad cases, all inspired by the V&A’s world-renowned Art Deco collection.
Mmuseums stimulate the growth of artists’ merchandise; brand collaborations make them cool. AndArt Agency’s exclusive collaboration database lists over 140 artist-brand partnerships that took place in the last year, including all of a Hublot watch designed by Takashi Murakami, for Swimwear David Salle for Orlebar Brown. These products, which are often released in small capsule collections, often sell out within hours or days: the Hubolt watch would have sold out within hours.
Additionally, a growing number of brands are founded for the sole purpose of creating artists’ products. White linewhich has been making beautiful artist porcelain plates and cups since 2007 (alongside artists like Alex Katz, Gilbert and George, Erwin Wurm and many others) is now beginning to face competition from newcomers like the Oscar collection (who got a resounding endorsement of Harry Macklowe on Instagram) and Liz Swig’s own brand of wearable art, Liz works, which enjoys growing global coverage. (Anyone grab their Rashid Johnson necklace worn by Kendall Roy in Succession?).
Artists get in on the action
Keith Haring may have been one of the first artists to have his own shop, but the practice is becoming more and more commonplace.
Tucked away on a side street on the corner of Copenhagen, you’ll find Shrig’s store, a store partly owned by artist David Shrigley that sells exclusively – you guessed it! – David Shrigley merchandise. I would be remiss to talk about artist merchandise without mentioning Daniel Arsham or KAWS, both of whom have built merchandising empires, but the number of artists following in their footsteps is growing and includes names like Kehinde Whiley, who last month reopened his recently refreshed online store to sell everything from playing cards to basketballs.
The galleries also play their role. Perrotin now has five stores in addition to its galleries, and Gagosian this week opened a Gagosian store in London’s historic Burlington Arcade. Cashmere from Hauser and Wirth artist blankets are often at the top of art lovers holiday wish lists.
With all of this, what does the future of arts institutions look like? My prediction is that this retail trend will continue to grow at an even faster rate, and those facets of the art world that have not yet adopted a retail practice will soon do so.
Prepare to find gift shops at your favorite art fairs, catering to the huge number of people who go through the day buying nothing more than a coffee, a sandwich and maybe a note.
Likewise, auction houses will adopt the additional function of serving as cultural retailers, competing with Stock X to sell exclusive products. Sotheby’s seems to have already taken its first steps in this area with its house Emporium store in New York.
Driven by a growing interest in the art world by people who cannot afford to play it regularly, as well as by individuals who wish to show their affinity for art and culture through the clothing that they carry and the objects they carry, the art the retail trend is going nowhere.
Rather than bemoan it, let’s embrace it and see it as an opportunity to expand our island market to a group that may one day become major art collectors themselves. Banksy seems to have been prescient when he said that at the end of the day everyone walks out through the gift shop.
Elliot Safra is a partner at AndArt Agency, a creative agency for global brands and the art world.
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