Tote-ally awesome art merch
As your granny well knows, there is no better place to shop for presents than in the gift shop of a museum or gallery. Thankfully these days gift shops have a lot more to offer than silk scarves and questionable ceramic jewellery. Bold and beautiful prints are found not just in frames but on tees and totes as well. For many artists and galleries, merchandise is becoming more and more important – both as a revenue stream and as a promotional tool.
Most visitors can’t afford to buy an original artwork or print, but a limited edition t-shirt or tote bag is an affordable way to show support for the artists and shows they love. For some artists, merchandise has even been the way that people first discover their work, before they have ever encountered it in a gallery. Here are some of the best artists and galleries making the most of merchandise.
The friendly, rounded custom font that Miles Newlyn created for the Tate Galleries is instantly recognisable, and is used across a wide range of their merchandise, from tees to luggage tags. When working with ICON on designs for staff to wear at the Queer & Now Festival at Tate Britain, it made sense that the gallery would use their font as a clear way to signpost who the helpers were. Equally, the Tate galleries have also embraced the creative genius of their exhibited artists, selling full-coverage printed tees and totes featuring bold work from the likes of David Hockney (making a Bigger Splash) and Barabara Kruger.
Polly Nor is a prime example of an artist who has used merchandise to expand her reach, and to grow awareness of her work as an artist. Her dark, humorous designs easily stand out on tees, totes and more, and have become a cult favourite amongst the creative industries crowd. Fans of her designs have then become her biggest promoters, wearing and instagramming her work, growing her profile as they do.
One of the original and best gallery gift shops, the Royal Academy have stayed relevant by diversifying the range of gifts they offer beyond just expensive exhibit catalogues and archive postcards. Like the Tate gift shops, they sell a range of designs that include their own iconography, as well as the works of their most famous exhibitors – like this triptych from Ai Wei Wei (below).
South London Gallery
When the South London Gallery opened a new annex in an old fire station in 2018 they created their commemorative tote (below) to mark the occasion. Available in black and white or in a neutral canvas printed in fire station red, the bag pays homage to the new location with a design that nods to the three narrow windows visible at the top of the building. The simple print pairs well with the gallery’s equally understated logo, for a clean design that would appeal to most visitors.
Olly Burn is a London based photographer with a diverse volume of work under his belt. He has worked on international campaigns for major players like Nike, as well as moving portrait series for charities like Age UK. When he decided to produce his own tote bag, he took a less conventional route that reflected his eclectic approach, producing a dotmatrix design that necessitated highly precise CMYK printing, made in collaboration with ICON. The outcome is a crisp print that is as bold as his photography.
The Barbican Centre, perhaps more than any other gallery space in London, have made their location itself an integral part of their brand identity. Accordingly, they have a huge range of merchandise dedicated to the brutalist architecture that the Barbican Estate is famous for. The clever designs of their Brutal Collection play on the word ‘Brutal’ for a tongue-in-cheek austere effect.
Just as Martin Parr show no signs of slowing his prolific photographic output, he likewise shows no signs of slowing production on his eclectic and distinctive range of merchandise. Fans of Parr can purchase anything from a beach ball emblazoned with his iconic Grandé Beach photograph to a ‘Bad Weather’ umbrella featuring some of his drizzliest snaps. Sensibly, he also sells more conventional merch, like tote bags and calendars, for the less adventurous fan who still wants to own a slice of the distinctive Parr vision.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
One of London’s most special galleries also has some of the most special merchandise for sale. A lovely and unique range includes designs which feature the reaction of contemporary artists to the collection of old masters that the gallery houses, like this tote from artist Erskine Ros which breaks down the colour pallete of a Rembrant painting in her own watercolour style.
In some ways David Shrigley is a spiritual predecessor to Polly Nor, as an artist whose unusual and distinctly weird designs gained popularity thanks to use on products from greeting cards to tea towels and t-shirts, such as the “Dawn Of Something” tee below. Shrigley’s bleak brand of off-kilter humour is perfectly suited to the British sensibility, and many people are familiar with his work through products they encounter before they come to enjoy him as an artist. His growing popularity has seen him go from internet outsider to the sculptor of a Fourth Plinth design for Trafalgar Square.
Want to create merch for your gallery, exhibition or artwork? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing on a range of garments, counting clients such as Tate, Boiler Room and WeWork. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.