Freelance writer and wanderer always on the lookout for quirky activities that take you off the beaten track.
Published April 8th 2011
In London there are so many things to catch your eye, keep you interested and entertained and even sometimes take your breath away. Masterpieces of art, museums with astounding collections of artefacts and antiques, incredible architecture, wonderful sights, bustling nightlife, crowds of people, never ending shops, extraordinary restaurants and cafes and just so much beauty and life.
There is one place, however, that is often overlooked as a destination in its own right, and yet can often be a place of much excitement and splendour; the gallery gift shop. Sometimes even the wonders of the exhibitions themselves cannot overcome the amazement and delight that fills me whilst browsing the corny knick knacks, postcards, calico bags, keyrings books and other tidbits that pervade these wonderful places.
Galleries and museums produce an incredible amount of paraphernalia and also source products from other companies to furnish their gift shops. They have the ability to excite and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds. Take the Victoria and Albert Museum for example.
It is given that any gallery goer's journey will end in the gift shop. But when it comes to the Victoria & Albert Museum I cannot think of a better place to enter than through the gift shop, rather than give it a side glimpse as you slip out the exit. I sure am guilty of doing this on a number of occasions.
The Victoria & Albert Museum itself is a place of true beauty. The gift shop however, is a majestic corridor shaped room filled with a mix of elegant works of design, gallery merchandise and playful bits and bobs. The shop has been created in a way that it is a retail and tourist destination in its own right.
The name gift shop obviously implies that gifts can be found within the walls, and no place is this more true than at the V&A. The shop offers a capably edited array of gifts that are impeccable candidates for being packaged up and sent to loved ones near and far.
Of course, once you get home you might just be tempted to keep any gifts purchased for yourself after all, so don't forget to pick up a little something as a compensating keepsake! However, if you do forget the V&A is savvy enough to have an online shop so that you may purchase items from the comfort of your very own sofa.
Most gallery gift shops boast a wide range of postal cards with their permanent and temporary exhibition images on them. But who really wants a card with a portrait of Henry VIII or an image of Tracey Emin's Bed? The V&A have an extensive range of the most gorgeous cards, all without the corny souvenir vibe.
The presence of the gift shop (and the promise of a plastic dinosaur) is used as the somewhat 'dangling carrot' to get many a child through the tiresomeness of an exhibition itself. At the V&A, one of my favourite parts about the gift shop is the selection of children's knick knacks and games. From vintage dominoes and dress up paper dolls to kitsch objects and old fashioned games like Snap! there is sure to be something to delight both kids and adults alike.
It doesn't stop there! Try the National Portrait Gallery gift shop for their unusual yet thoughtful book choices and quirky analogue camera range, the Natural History Museum for all things wacky and playful and the Tate Britain for its assortment of eccentric jewellery and series of objects made by artists themselves, including David Shrigley and Richard Wentworth.
Next time don't be afraid to enter through the gift shop; you might just pick yourself up a fun new gadget, corny souvenir or even a bargain or two!