Between the Canvas and the Plastic: Museum Gift Shops

Photo courtesy of Willie's Point of View, Flickr

The Los Angeles gift-buying experience can go from the highest of the high-brow to the kitschiest of the kitschy and, fortunately, gift stores at LA-area museums reflect that eclecticism. Dozens of local museums give the artistically-inspired a chance to get one-of-a-kind items, and many of these institutions offer discounts on the swag.

Rocks Glass with Record Bottom Decoration

The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE

In addition to having tons of exhibits that will keep any music pop, rock or blues aficionado thoroughly sated with each visit, Downtown’s GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE has a store replete with hats, shirts, caps, magnets, bookmarks and other items with the world-famous GRAMMY “phonograph” symbol on them. But we’re all about Rock n’ Roll, and what says that better than a rocks glass ($14) with a GRAMMY logo and a “record” at the bottom of the glass? The store offers a 15% discount on gifts with museum admission through Discover the Arts.

Mini Kimochi Huggtopus Toy

Japanese American National Museum
The Japanese American National Museum’s store has a ton of items to choose from. DVDs, books, tea sets, ornaments, plates, pop-up cards, jewelry – heck, it’s even got kits for everything from origami to ukuleles. The favorite was going to be a tossup between knee sox and a bento box – until we saw the Mini Kimochi Huggtopus Toy ($15). No, we don’t really know what it is, either. Through Discover the Arts, the museum store offers a free gift with any purchase of at least $20.

Peace Wreath

Santa Monica Museum of Art
What, you thought an art museum in this legendarily free-spirited and arts-loving seaside city would be the least bit ordinary? Not a chance. This museum store is one big party, complete with menorahs that are either powered by LEDs or shaped like VW Buses, gold-plated mini hippos, chopsticks, “Life of the Party” dish towels and all sorts of other off-kilter gifts. Our choice, however, is the Peace Wreath, made out of synthetic evergreen, of course ($32).

van Gogh “Portrait of a Peasant” Mousepad

Norton Simon Museum
Much of the gift store at this Pasadena institution caters to full-blown, or at least, aspiring artists, with dozens of pencil and crayon sets, sketchbooks and books complemented by offbeat items such as an 8” reproduction of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and a stone-carved Buddha. What hooks us, though, is the item that says, “I have no illusions of being an artist.” And that, of course, is the van Gogh “Portrait of a Peasant” Mousepad ($12.95).

“Albert Einstein Little Thinker” Plush Toy

Griffith Observatory
Adjoining the recently renovated Griffith Observatory atop Griffith Park, the Stellar Emporium Gift Shop goes all out with its space-is-the-place theme, with items such as hanging glow-in-the-dark planets, chrome Newton’s cradles (think small clanging metal balls on a string), planet & sun print ties and even a Buzz Aldrin autographed print for $399.99. And as for favorite, one could do far worse than the “Albert Einstein Little Thinker” plush toy ($19.99). But who are we kidding? Our favorite gift is the view of the city below.

“I Shot Ray Charles” Book

California African American Museum
You’ll have a hard time finding something that’s not cool at the store of this museum, which is located in Exposition Park next to USC. Amid the heady mix of items are Apollo Theatre season posters, “black chrome” tension balls and the photography book “Intersections of South Central: People and Places in Historic and Contemporary Photographs.” Better, still, may be “I Shot Ray Charles,” a book of photographs featuring the work of Howard Morehead and images of the musical legend ($20). And if you mention Discover the Arts, you get a free CAAM poster.

“I Read Banned Books” Bracelet

Getty Villa
As if gorgeous architecture and the sun-kissed Malibu coastline isn’t enough, the Getty Villa’s store offers even more to soak up. Visitors can check out books on subjects such as photographer Dorothea Lange and artist Edgar Degas as well as items such as scarves, shawls, tote bags, mugs, ties and even a Fuzz That Wuzz Stuffed-Animal Cat. Classic surroundings notwithstanding, though, we’ll go with the thoroughly modern “I Read Banned Books” bracelet ($25), completed with images of book covers like “Howl,” “The Color Purple” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And during Discover the Arts, museum store items are discounted 20%.

Hot Chick Water Bottle: Penguin

Skirball Cultural Center
If you’re going to visit Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball Cultural Center, expect Old Testament. Mini Noah’s Arks and lots of animal-themed items (insulated monkey- and frog shaped lunch bags, elephant lamps) are joined by challah platters, recycled dreidels and Adam & Eve candle sticks. But while a trip to the Skirball gives visitors a chance to explore spiritual and philosophical questions posed by the Good Book, its store also gives you a chance to keep kitschy. Hence, the hot-chick water bottle shaped like a penguin ($18.50).

Maria Frederike Doll

The Getty Center
Okay, books are cool — but only if you’re getting them for a book lover. If this is the case, there’s perhaps no better place to pick up art books than the Getty Center’s Museum Bookstore. Antiquities, architecture, education, humanities…whatever subject, the Getty Center features classic collections for both academia and coffee tables. That’s not to say books are the only things you can get. Posters, Murano glass pens, boxed stationary sets and calligraphy sets are top picks also, not to mention Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and Marie Antoinette action figures as well as the Maria Frederike doll ($5).

Urban Light Umbrella designed by artist Christ Burden

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

What we like about LACMA’s gift shop is its variety. Stationary, jewelry and posters come standard at museum gift shops, but LACMA puts on finishing touches with vintage bags and über-modern, highly design-centric everyday items. If you visit during a particular exhibition, there’s also likely to be a nice selection of related gifts that will help you remember the experience. For example, the Urban Light Umbrella designed by artist Christ Burden ($48).

Mithila Painting Silk Cushion Covers

Craft and Folk Art Museum

With all its cool exhibitions, you’d expect a museum like the Craft and Folk Art Museum to win some recognition as one of the best gift shops in the city (it did, by the way, win a Los Angeles Magazine "Best of LA" mention in 2006). The selection here is about as unique as you can get, featuring Matjames Matchboxes, original Mithila paintings, greeting cards and a number of fun arts and crafts specific to the museum, like the Mithila Painting Silk Cushion Covers ($35).