Still Life with Beach Towel

The gift shop at the new Museum of Contemporary Art in New York doesn't sell standard museum fare—no Monet neckties or Jackson Pollock jigsaw puzzles. Instead, the NCMA, which just opened its new building in November, carries much edgier stuff. There are $540 smocks from a pattern by Andrea Zittel, an artist known for living out in the desert in mobile survivalist cabins. You'll also find $30 canvas totes by pop-noir draftsman Richard Pettibon and $68 beach towels by fey portraitist Elizabeth Peyton. "I've always thought that every artist ought to have a cheap line," says conceptual artist John Baldessari, who has a coffee mug inscribed with his cheeky aphorism TIPS FOR ARTISTS WHO WANT TO SELL available at the new Broad Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Artist-made museum merchandise is on the rise. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art are all getting into the act, striking deals with artists involving flat fees and cuts of the take. Next month SFMoMA will unveil a line of T shirts, silicon place mats and word puzzles by artist-designer Rex Ray. It's a way of allowing visitors to feel like they're taking home a genuine work of art. But is it really art, or just a gussied-up tchotchke? "Since I don't see our curatorial department trolling the gift store for additions to the permanent collection," says Boston ICA retail manager Victor Oliviera, "it's probably a good guess that the shop doesn't carry 'real works of art'." For some, though, what they do carry is close enough.

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