Art galleries. The mere mention of whiling away a couple of hours looking at art can be divisive; for some people it’s an absolute dream, the chance for a bit of peaceful contemplation and creative appreciation. I certainly know others who would immediately think “boring/stuffy/pretentious/not-for-me”. Personally, there’s not a lot I enjoy more than a tootle around a gallery, ideally with modern art in it, standing in front of a painting and stroking my chin contemplatively. I particularly enjoy doing this all by myself, so I can dawdle as long as I like, without anyone chivvying me along, or urgently needing the toilet (that’s my children, just to be clear).
Of course, I’m talking about the olden days, “BC” (Before Covid), when you could wake up and pretty much do whatever your heart desired. At the time of writing, we’re in lockdown and art galleries are all closed as “non-essential services”. The good news, if gallery-mooching is your bag, is that many of them have online offerings during lockdown, even if it’s not quite the same. Research commissioned by Arts Council England in 2019 found that the presence of arts and culture has a positive impact on a person’s sense of community, wellbeing and overall satisfaction with their location, and we could all do with a bit more of those things just now, even if it is only accessible virtually.
Whether or not you want to linger by a piece of sculpture or dwell on a particularly inspiring sketch, I’m going to suggest that there is one wonderfully unifying factor in all larger art galleries and it is this: THE GIFT SHOP. If you visit a gallery in person, then there’s no escaping it, you’re always cunningly directed to exit via the gift shop. Always my kids’ favourite bit, in fact, the bit that can be used as a bribe to get them round the gallery in the first place. And what absolute hidden gems gallery gift shops are, they’re such an excellent source of cool, unique prints, homeware, jewellery, stationery and all kinds of bits and bobs you never knew you needed. Like many of the exhibitions in these plague-ridden times, the happy news is that the gift shops are also online, so you can get straight to the exit (if you’re so inclined) without getting stuck behind a school trip of 30 seven year olds (this always happens to me. Why? WHY?).
I’m going to take you for a virtual whizz around 4 of my favourite online gallery gift shops and I can tell you that researching for this blog has been one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in a long while. So, grab a cuppa (or a wine, I find this usually answers the question of “but do I really need it?” with a resounding “TREAT YO’SELF”) and let’s browse.
1. The Hepworth
Let’s start local (to me). The Hepworth is in Wakefield in Yorkshire, and is named after Wakey-born-and-bred sculptor, Barbara Hepworth. It is the most fabulous Brutalist block of a building, set right on the river Calder. It’s absolutely gorgeous and visiting it is nothing but a pleasure for me. I have loads of amazing photos I’ve taken of the setting and various exhibitions, which would have been great to illustrate this paragraph, but I tend to use my proper camera for that and I have no idea where all my old memory cards are. Professional to a fault.
Here’s my top 9 picks from the Hepworth gift shop:
2. The Victoria & Albert
One of the Big Lads, and actually a museum rather than a gallery, the V&A is located in the Royal Borough (dahling) of Kensington & Chelsea, and is a lavish Victorian building of quite staggering beauty. It covers 12.5 acres, and has so many different collections spanning 5,000 years that I won’t even begin to go in to it in this wee blog post. I’ve visited a few times and it’s always jaw dropping. The above pic is one I took in the “back garden” bit (not actually sure that’s what they officially call it) on a scorching day a few years ago. Sadly, it’s from my Instagram feed way back when I lived for a heavy filter, so it’s a bit dark. Sorry. On to the their retail offering…..
3. The BALTIC
Back up to my North Eastern roots for this one, the BALTIC is a centre for contemporary art in an old flour mill on the south bank of the River Tyne (Gateshead side, this is an important point, as any North East dweller will confirm). There are no permanent exhibitions, so there’s an ever changing programme, in non-plague times. It’s usually got good stuff on for kids during the school holidays too, so I take mine along if we’re up that way, visiting the fam (there we are, above, in 2016 – not a great picture of the girls, but I look ok, so….).
On to the gift shop…..
4. The Tate Modern
The Tate is a network of four art galleries across the UK, and the Tate Modern is another of the London Big Lads, with art from 1900 to the present day, right on the bank of the Thames in Southwark. I’ve never actually visited in person, it’s very much on the list of things to do next time I’m allowed to cross the North/South divide. I know one thing, however: the gift shop is epic. I have lots of prints from the Tate dotted around the house and it’s one of my go-tos for a nice, non run-of-the-mill, present. Often to myself. Here’s my top nine, it’s quite print-heavy, as the prints are the jewel in the crown of this particular shop:
The downside of putting blogs like this together is I want to buy so many of the things I pick out! I’m sitting on my hands (so far). Give me a shout in the comments if you’re inspired to make any purchases, or if you have a different go-to gallery gift shop, I’d love to know.