We love museum shops, in particular exclusive designer objects in museum shops! Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the leading Russian art institutions to present exclusive jewelry and porcelain created especially for exhibitions. Soon the museum is opening its online store, so our readers from all around the world will be able to order pieces by Russian designers inspired by outstanding contemporary artists, presented in the Garage Museum. Museeum met with Kate Istratova who is in charge of producing and merchandising of Garage gifts and discussed the objects, the challenges of finding the right designer, Russian art market and so much more.

Let’s start from the beginning, who creates Garage souvenirs – sweatshirts, t-shirts, mirrors, magnets?

We closely work with Kit (Garage head of design and advertising) on everything from stickers to notebooks and mirrors, I take special pride in our clothing line. It is close to my heart, it is my passion because I graduated from the State Textile University in Moscow, where designers spread their love for fashion, clothes patterns, templates, dress designs, sewing on the entire university. Then I studied graphic design in London, where I wrote my thesis. I studied silkscreen and lino printing, pad printing, art history and I loved it when our teachers in London said: "Put down the computers, you mustn’t work only in digital formats" and I happily picked up brushes and paints. It was the best two years of studying, when going to the library was a special occasion! Thanks to my education I know how to approach any product. One of our bestsellers is a sweatshirt with original cut, original print, raw sleeves and wide neck. We also sell classical ones with Garage inscription and of course sweatshirts for kids. It is pure joy to see tots dressed in our clothes, going to Garage Education Center. I love seeing our visitors re-imagining sweaters and T-shirts: they roll up the sleeves, trim them, wear sweaters with dresses, wear sweaters as dresses… And I have so many ideas! Close your eyes and imagine a museum shop raincoat, what do you see? Probably a plastic something that you would only wear once… I want to create Garage raincoats that our customers would proudly wear daily, the pattern is in my head, I just need a designer who would help me draw it. The same goes for special park backpacks (with extra space for a coffee mug, for a blanket, for a Frisbee, for a water bottle) that should look stylish enough for you to take to work, to a date, to a festival, to a trip. But coming back to market and artists – not every artist is open to the idea of mass-producing something while Garage wants to work with real artists, since everyone who works here are artists at heart.

How did you work on souvenirs for recent exhibitions, for example the one of Russian artist Viktor Pivovarov? Did the artist himself take part it the process?

Viktor Pivovarov’s souvenirs are my pride and joy – we were so lucky to have worked and discussed our ideas with the artist himself. We were even luckier that he, having listened to our ideas, gave us carte blanche! He felt right at home with my vision and supported us all the way. My firm belief is that we must represent the artist, not only our institution that’s why I pay close attention to all the output data on our products. You can see we don’t merely write the name of the work, we imprint as much info as we can! And if the artist has a key work that is not included in the exhibition, we still contact the owner and ask for permission to introduce it in our bookshop as a souvenir. For Louise Bourgeois exhibition I wanted to include not only her work, but also her portrait. Her story is so inspiring that I really wanted our customers to see her in all glory and we got rights for her photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe that I truly love. In the portrait you can see a happy, successful woman, I wanted everyone to see her like that.

Was the jewelry presented for Louis Bourgeois exhibition created exclusively for Garage and how did you find Mineral Weather team that made these great pieces?

Our purpose was to find rather small manufacturers with personal approach, we didn’t want to go industrial and work with household names, although it would make the products more attractive to some. But we have our own vision – wanted to give a voice to those, who care for the artists we represent. So when we came up with an idea of creating jewelry for Louise Bourgeois exhibition "Structures of existence". It was of utmost importance that the designers understood Louis Bourgeois’ creativity, felt her work and loved her as much as we did. When I first sat down with Mineral Weather, the meeting was scheduled for half an hour, instead we talked about Louis, her art, her life and struggles for more than 3 hours. When the guys sent their first sketches, I immediately decided to hand them over to museum's archives for us to keep, since they were so refined, classy and beautiful – just as I wanted!

Who made the final decision of which sketches would become actual objects?

It seems like the entire museum participated in the discussion. Everyone enjoyed it so much that my colleagues started making lists of what they would buy. It became evident that we headed in the right direction. When I made the final list, I called the guys and said: all of it, but double the quantity. We were in love with the objects right from the start and after about a month of great sales, photos of our objects suddenly went viral on social media. Everyone started coming in, wanting to buy Louis Bourgeois inspired jewelry. We didn’t have much left in stock, so I immediately ordered another batch and then more. That’s another reason why we wanted to work with local designers: it is imperative for us to meet the needs of our customers. A lot of times visitors came to us looking for minor alterations, like a pendant that we sell, but with a longer chain or a ring, but in smaller size. Based on audience’s requests I ordered different pieces.

Does your success with creating jewelry for exhibitions mean that we can expect other jewelry objects in the Garage Bookshop in the future?

As of now, I can say that we will definitely generate and produce jewelry objects, but Garage exhibits widely different artists. And as I’ve said before, we will pick manufacturers depending on the artist we represent. A designer, who prepares a product, inspired by an artist that is exhibited in the Garage, must really cherish and appreciate the works on display. He must be ready to imbue our bookshop’s space with the exhibition’s spirit. Therefore, we are open for cooperation!

If you are a small successful manufacture or an ambitious designer on jewelry, leather, textile, and etc. just contact us. Talents all over Russia graduate from excellent art universities, but they do not know how to represent themselves, how to, if I can put it bluntly, "sell" themselves.

That’s exactly what we discussed with local designers – double standards of our art market. On the one hand artists are afraid to “sell out” and they must be seen as struggling, but on the other – how can you make a living if you don’t sell your works?

Exactly! The situation is structured the way that institutions have a hard time looking for true artists and artists have to work on sluggish projects to earn at least something. Garage is giving everyone a chance to showcase their art, if they are open to museum shops! We always search for new vision, however it is a delicate art process that involves Garage team, artist, studio, manufacturers. Therefore, I am constantly looking for those who work with porcelain, plastic, clay, wood, metal, candles, textiles... It is hard to plan what we are going to do next, because artist’s individuality is a core issue in producing souvenirs.

How do you structure your work with Garage’s chief curator Kate Fowle?

Working with Kate Fowle is such a pleasure. First of all, she is that kind of person, who trusts members of her team. I approach her and our director Anton Belov on final stages, when I’m prepared to defend my concept and Kate's comments are always to the point, she gives new perspective and I put the finishing touches after our discussion. Anton is supportive, he is a visionary, who is open to any high-class project. I’m happy that now Garage visitors are becoming more refined in their tastes, they choose carefully and we try to offer more unique, exclusive things. Russian museum shop market is changing, the competition is becoming an issue, and I love it – it gives an opportunity to become better. The scariest and simultaneously the most exciting moment for me is when after the opening night our beloved visitors come to see the exhibition and visit the bookstore. That’s when I step to the side and silently pray that everyone likes our products.

Soon there will be more praying to do with online Garage bookshop, for now it will mirror the main collection, but will grow. We at the Museeum cannot wait to TOUCH new jewelry, raincoats and maybe even furniture, why not?!