When the museum becomes a shop….
“For many people a visit to the gift shop is an important part of of visiting a museum or gallery: buying a postcard or print of a favourite work, a book, headscarf or even a reproduction as something to take away from the experience. It’s undoubtedly an important part of a museum’s income generation. At the Benaki Museum in Athens this must be particularly important considering the current problems with the Greek economy. But their enterprising approach to creating and selling merchandise is not limited to the gift-shop but spread throughout the museum. Next to a beautiful Cycladic head we see a silver cast that one can buy from the shop; behind ancient vases we see giant wrist-watch clocks featuring motifs from the ancient decoration; in a display of folk costumes and textiles one figure carries a tote bag presumably inspired by his costume; in another brightly-coloured drinks coasters are suspended above their inspiration. It is not a subtle approach: the 500+ items for sale that are dotted around the museum cannot be missed as they are emphasised with bright orange mounts. But these go beyond being contemporary ‘interventions’ to being annoying distractions from the Benaki Museum’s truly remarkable collection.
One has to question the appropriateness of displaying earrings for sale immediately in front of a religious icon or cluttering objects of such cultural and aesthetic value with cheap reproductions. The centrepiece is a hanging installation in the atrium made of men’s ties that are available in the shop. It’s a risky path for a museum to take as it could be seen as devaluing the assets which they hold and making them look like no more than window dressing for the products they seek to sell.”