December 16 2009
Lucia van der Post
So here we are, a few days before Santa is due down the chimney, and if every last name on your shopping list has been ticked off then this is possibly not for you. But if you’re still wondering where on earth to track down gifts that are a bit different, altogether special and not too wildly priced, let me introduce you to a new(ish) notion – cultural shopping.
Cultural shopping has been creeping up on us. Shops attached to museums and art galleries such as Tate Modern, the V&A, The Saatchi Gallery and The Natural History Museum have been moving into the commercial world, opening up shops and developing products that are not just connected in a meaningful way to the exhibitions in the museums but which are also desirable enough to make us get out our credit cards.
Time Out magazine, for instance, voted the shop at the Southbank Centre as one of London’s top 100 shops, and I have long found the one attached to the Science Museum one of the best places to hunt for children’s presents. There are now so many shops belonging to many hundreds of cultural institutions around the world that few of us could ever manage to visit more than a few of them, which is where a recently launched website called CultureLabel comes in. It does the visiting, the curating and the editing for us. Tap into it and you’ll find a host of possible presents, each one with some real connection to the institution it comes from.
For this Christmas, it has helpfully grouped objects into ideas for boyfriends (a Shepard Fairey limited edition print for the Vinyl Factory for £100), girlfriends (brilliant red Love sculpture, first picture, from the Tate, £58.72), dads (a great cuneiform watch from the British Museum, second picture, for £85), mums (a Tracey Emin “my favourite bird” plate, third picture, £19.95 from the Royal Academy), children (Julian Opie baby bib for £9 from the Tate or Stack the Bones puzzle by Baltic for £19.95), credit crunch (Crunch game by the Saatchi Gallery for £9.99), art lover (Anish Kapoor print from The Whitechapel Gallery for £4,700) and luxury (Studio Voltaire print portfolio for £1,500): you get the picture.
All this, thinks Peter Tullin, one of the co-founders of the website, is more than just a convenient way to shop; it’s part of what he calls “a search for products with meaning”.
Cultural products, artist-designed artefacts by people such as Gilbert & George, Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin and all the rest, come with a story; they have a soul and they’re things to cherish. That these things have a commercial appeal is indisputable. At The Science Museum, retailing brings in around £18m a year, at The British Museum some £9m and at The Natural History Museum’s Dino Store, retail sales are up 20 per cent this year.
The great thing about CultureLabel is that it brings together on one website the wares from a myriad different institutions. But if you’re thinking that it might solve some of your Christmas shopping problems, you’d better get clicking fast. Most, however, can deliver within three days of the order being placed, and some will still courier presents up to December 23, but at extra cost.