French Designers Take California Museum Gift Shop to the Next Level
The MIND Concept Store elevates the museum experience of the Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa, California. Martha Sessums talks to the two designers behind this state-of-the-art gift shop
One of the best parts about visiting a museum is the gift shop. After enjoying an exhibit, buying postcards, journals, catalogues and other fun souvenirs is part of the experience. The MIND, the museum shop at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), takes that experience to a new level as part of the artistic journey of the museum, but adds a French flair.
The owners of The MIND are two French design and art collectors. Nicolas Libert and Emmanuel Renoird have, for nine years, run PLEASE DO NOT ENTER, a successful retail concept store in Los Angeles now located in Orange County’s South Coast Plaza. OCMA claims the museum “focuses on art …with ties to California” but the team of Libert/Renoird expands that focus by making The MIND an international concept store that broadens the museum adventure.
“We wanted to make something different that doesn’t look like a museum store,” said Libert. “We wanted to mix the past and the contemporary to help the younger generation understand being creative and be inspired by what others did in the past.”
Part of the museum experience
The result is a store that mixes a wide range of vintage and new jewellery, fashion, art and product design with OCMA’s exhibits and collections while physically being a part of the museum itself, not a hidden bookshop at a museum’s exit.
The OCMA building is designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Thom Mayne, founder of design studio Morphosis. The atrium is the key architectural feature, along with a grand staircase community gathering point and intimate galleries that inspire a connection with displayed art. Featuring wide open space, the light-filled atrium allows visitors a view of the galleries and sky bridges plus the museum shop. According to Libert, Mayne gave them freedom to design The MIND but there could be no walls. “Complete transparency” was required so customers could see the galleries from anywhere in the store.
The openness of the gift shop adds to its uniqueness. Vintage inventory is key and the store’s timeless jewellery is displayed in a 20-foot long stainless steel, modern sculpture by French artist Sébastien Léon which also plays a specially composed electronic rock soundtrack by American duo Phantogram.
“We wanted to offer an experience to visitors that they … had to experience physically,” said Libert. “That’s why we wanted to have a big installation that was a sculpture/sound installation/display where we showed our old vintage pieces. The idea was to have kind of a time capsule, something really surprising which is part of the experience. Plus, art inside the museum store made the store a destination inside a destination.”
Storytelling is a major part of The MIND as it works to meld past and present with the combination of vintage and modern objects for sale. Traditional museum giftshops are full of expected, politically correct books, cards, and other objects while The MIND tells a broader, more contemporary story by mixing a wide variety of objects from a wide time frame and a wider point of view.
For example, vintage 1960s and 1970s clothing and jewellery from Pierre Cardin, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Dior etc. are available, all purchased by the Libert/ Renoird team in Paris. There are also older pieces of art that add humour and sometimes a bit of politically incorrect controversy, such as a set of skateboards painted in 1967 with Disney characters having fun but straying from a PG rating! There are plenty of contemporary art-related objects such as street art items, young illustrator’s art, scented candles, sculptures, educational toys, books and games along with the books, magnets and other limited-edition souvenirs of the museum’s exhibits and its art collection that add to the buyer’s choice. All the inventory works to be part of the story The MIND is telling.
“The first reason of contemporary art is to challenge your thoughts, your beliefs, your experience, your everyday life and we go to a modern museum because we want to be surprised,” said Libert. “Challenging people’s minds is the first goal of an art museum, especially a contemporary one, and that’s the reason why we wanted to do the exact same thing with the selection we have in the store. We wanted to be unusual.”
“A museum store has to be educational for kids and adults and they are looking to learn and discover new things and to be surprised,” continued Libert. “For these reasons, our selection of art-related pieces is important…because it continues the experience of the museum itself.”
Visitors evidently have fun in the store and it’s very popular. The OCMA opened in October 2022 and traffic in the giftshop (and the museum) hasn’t slowed down. The exhibits, grand staircase and restaurants have drawn lots of people and many visit The MIND. For example, the recent Daniel Arsham exhibit opening event had an RSVP list of 5,000 people and The MIND sold almost 300 signed art books that night.
“We see people laugh in the store and say nice things about it,” said Libert. “That’s the best reward you could expect. Make people happy and have them spend money, that’s the best of the best.”
While the museum shop is full of French jewellery and clothing collections and there is a French aesthetic in the design of the store, Libert claims that is not what people expect from a museum store or in Orange County.
“We have a few French collections, designers, artists but most are international and the store is international, not French. The aesthetic and touch is French because we are French, but it is wide about all kinds of artists and all kinds of designers.”
That’s probably true, but at The MIND, it took a French artistic team to break the rules of traditional museums and elevate the museum store experience.
Lead photo credit : Nicolas Libert and Emmanuel Renoird are behind The MIND concept giftshop ©Owen Kolasinski
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