As we continue to visit the best museums around the world, we return to the same ongoing discussion: the role of a museum. Should they be libraries, serious and hefty organizations stressing the more traditional side of art? Or should they offer entertainment programs and souvenirs, falling on the less conventional side of things. We think the Whitney encompasses the best of both. Read on to learn more!

When we visit state-of-the-art institutions like The Whitney Museum of American Art, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano and situated in downtown Manhattan on Gansevoort Street between the High Line elevated park and the Hudson River, we immediately realize that we want to spend our entire day there in order to SEE, BREATHE, TASTE, LISTEN and TOUCH. Working our way down from the eighth floor we get to the street-level museum shop – modest in size but not in selection. Postcards, books, accessories and exclusive design objects, like Lumb Nubbins by Adam Frezza & Terri Chiao – small sculptures made from recycled junk mail, old bank statements, scrap paper, and newspaper pressed through a screen, forming lumps that are then carefully transformed into Lump Nubbins with paint, plaster, and other mixed media. We enjoyed the shop very much and got a chance to speak with Lauri Freedman – Whitney Museum Retail Product Development Manager about the shop collection, working with artists and favorite museum shop pieces:

As we see, the Whitney Museum shop offers specials for the ongoing exhibitions. Do you have a team of designers, who create exhibition-specific souvenirs or do you work with various artists depending on the exhibition?

While we do not create custom product in collaboration with every exhibition or work on view, we do create a suite of products in conjunction with every major exhibition, select existing product that reflects and expands on the ideas behind those and our smaller exhibitions, and support the curatorial vision with each and every item we offer.

It is our mission to create lasting and tangible connections between museum visitors/shop customers and the artists on view and in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Whitney Shop is dedicated to promoting a personal relationship between our customers and the ever-changing perspectives represented by the museum’s collection and exhibitions. By selecting and developing product that educates, engages and delights visitors from diverse backgrounds who possess a wide range of interests and knowledge about art, we ensure that all visitors who wish to bring a touchstone of their museum experience home can do so.

©The Whitney Museum of American Art
©The Whitney Museum of American Art

How do you select the works and the artists?

We work closely with the exhibition schedule and also meet and talk to many artists who are interested in taking a step towards creating product and don’t possess the expertise or resources that we do. We have a goal for how many editions we will do in a year and what price points we want to offer so that the largest number of people can have the experience of owning something truly unique, but from there it is a process of determining timelines and production schedules.

Do artists approach you with their ideas or do you (or maybe the curators) look for artists? And do you work with curators on designs or do you let the designers offer products?

There is no set way we work. We approach artists, artists approach us, we approach young designers who have been influenced by the collection, curators introduce us to artists, and sometimes we will even pair an established artist with an up-and-coming designer who is a genius at fabrication and see what magic they can make together.

How did you begin your work with Adam Frezza & Terri Chiao?

Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao came to us through a combination of reputation and kismet. Our recently hired head of product development had worked with them on other projects before coming to the museum and invited them in to see what ideas would come from a walk through the works on view from the permanent collection. Their LUMP NUBBINS were created in conjunction with an exhibition of pieces in the Whitney’s permanent collection.

Asking young designers to react to the pieces found in the Whitney’s collection or in a special exhibition is one of the most rewarding ways to create dynamic and unique objects. We wish we could say that this was our idea, but it stemmed from the number of young artists and designers who have come to us to share their excitement at the increased presence of works on view from the Whitney’s collection and what an inspiration in their own practices it has been.

©The Whitney Museum of American Art
©The Whitney Museum of American Art

A great selection of art books can be found in the Whitney Shop, less so on your site. Which are your personal favorites?

Our book selection is a particular source of pride for us and is personally researched and selected by the Director of Retail for the museum. Far from being a side category for the Whitney Shop, books present the most significant percentage of our product assortment. We carry a selection of contemporary art books, an ever-changing and surprising selection of exhibition-related publications, books relating to the artists represented by our permanent collection and an outsized and exploratory stock of monographs, theory, photography, performance, music, new media and front list titles.

What products would you never sell in your shop?

We would like to think that there is nothing we would never sell in our shop because we imagine ourselves to be amenable to any idea as long as it helps us fulfill the goals of the shop which, succinctly put, are to support the mission of the museum. We like to keep an open mind when considering our merchandise assortment and while talking with potential vendors, designers and artist collaborators. That said, we would never sell an item that is disrespectful of an artist or that did not maintain the integrity of the works in the collection.

Maybe there are some products you want in your shop? Something you saw in another museum and thought that you would want it to appear in your museum shop.

There are too many items to name here! So many truly creative people are developing product for museums and commercial galleries and we are inspired by so many of them. There are museums who are working with artists who the Whitney hasn’t exhibited or who aren’t part of our collection that we would be so happy to work with.

And we couldn’t avoid asking this – what is your favorite product of your museum shop?

That is like asking us to pick a favorite child. We might be able to tell you at a certain moment on a certain day what item we are most excited by or proud of, but the Whitney Shop is a small store in an important museum in a major city and, as such, we can be very particular about what we carry. Each and every item is a favorite!

©The Whitney Museum of American Art
©The Whitney Museum of American Art