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A window display at the redesigned MFAH Shop.

Image: Sarah Rufca

Sometimes the difference between an object and a work of art is only the eye of the beholder—just ask Marcel Duchamp. That's what I was reminded of this week on a stroll through the re-imagined retail space at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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Image: Sarah Rufca

It's only natural, when a focal point of the newly open, uncluttered space is a quartet of display cases each holding an item from the store's shelves—be it a colorful expanding ball or a gilt (literal) piggy bank. Just because they have price tags doesn't mean we shouldn't stop and appreciate their vibrant colors and compelling shapes. 

The shop's collection hasn't changed too much—it's still filled with artful vases and other vessels, books about art and culture, interesting jewelry and unique objects. The difference is the new presentation designed by retail director Chris Goins, which takes a less-is-more approach to display, allowing the eye to wander and each object on display to really grab your attention. 

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Image: Sarah Rufca

I'm partial to the ordinary items that are elevate with thoughtful design, like the perfectly imperfect shape of gold Tom Dixon bowls, the American flag design snuck into a spatula, a monochrome-colored bicycle and the simplicity of Texas-themed canvas bags by Sisters of Los Angeles.

It's not just a more pleasant shopping experience, it's the beginning of a conversation about the role of retail in a cultural institution—is it just about sales, or should it reflect the works elsewhere in the building? The new MFAH Shop shows that in the right hands, it can be all of the above.

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Image: Sarah Rufca

 

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