Van Gogh leggings and Tracey teacups: how art merch broke out of the gift shop

You could, if you were fanatical about such things, live your entire life kitted out in your favourite artists. You could wake up and remove your Louise Bourgeois eye mask, take a swig from your Damien Hirst coffee cup, then you check your Ai Weiwei-covered phone before pulling on your Van Gogh leggings. Tea sets, tote bags, dinner trays, model figures, swear boxes, snow globes and even room spray: artist merchandise has moved far beyond the kitsch of Mona Lisa tea towels. It’s now a burgeoning industry that straddles high art, high fashion and the high street.

“Museum shops are getting bigger and more museums are getting shops,” says Victoria Hooper, head of copyright licensing at DACs, a not-for-profit organisation that negotiates royalties for artists whose work is reused. With arts organisations having their funding cut, she says, “everyone in the sector is looking at different ways to monetise”.

For artists, of course, merchandising work is nothing new. “Warhol was the beginning of it,” says Rosey Blackmore, merchandise director at Tate. “He was very interested in the way art could reflect the everyday. Many artists can see that merchandise is a very democratic way of getting their work out into the world.” For those without a spare £2.5m to buy Tracey Emin’s My Bed, a £12 Tracey eggcup is a good way of feeling as if we own a piece of her oeuvre.
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2018-10-29T09:40:40+00:00