Sometimes I think I like museums’ gift shops as much as (and sometimes more than) the museums themselves. The store at the Cooper-Hewitt in New York, for example, feels like my own personal aesthetic bliss. I get a contact high from its stacks of hip art books and shelves of quirky design objects, all housed in the significant rooms of a historical mansion.
My favorite guilt-free museum shop purchase is the requisite book of postcards. I got a book of Erte ones many, many years ago at The Art Institute. I hadn’t heard of Erte; I just thought the pictures were pretty and might look nifty on my fridge. But over the years, the more I have admired his work–even on flimsy, mass-produced perforated cards–I want to know more. (And yeah, having dinner with him might have been cool, too.)
What a fascinating life. Romain de Tirtoff (his initials, when pronounced in French, sound like Erte, hence the moniker) was Russian-born artist who rose to fame with his elaborate costumes, set designs and fashion illustrations gracing the covers of Harper’s Bazaar. A second wave of appreciation in the 70s and 80s, from Art Deco-style prints of his fantastical designs, allowed him to flourish professionally up to his death at age 97.
His work has a bit of everything I love. There’s geometry and exquisite symmetry, vibrant colors and flamboyant details, from beads to feathers to striking curvatures. The costumes depicted are the love children of Bob Mackie and Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker, born in the 30s and thrown onto the stage. What’s not to love?
Postcards are fine for now, but imagine a real print. Larger than life above my fireplace, it might knock the vintage Lolita movie poster of its throne. Until the next museum shop trip…and the next obsession, perhaps.