Unexpected Finds at the Pérez Art Museum Gift Shop
by stephanie dunn
Just as the art inside the Pérez Art Museum Miami is unique and unexpected, its gift shop’s wares are one-of-a-kind gems.
Whimsical wares fill the shelves of PAMM’s museum store.
It’s not unusual to visit the Pérez Art Museum Miami and wish you could take the works of art from Ai Weiwei or Monika Sosnowska home. While that’s not an option—unless you’ve made your peace with ending up on several international “Most Wanted” lists—you can leave with armfuls of thoughtfully curated, always clever, and often tongue-in-cheek tokens from PAMM Shop, the thoroughly modern museum store located just to the right of the museum’s entrance.
At 1,800 square feet, the space is open and airy, filled with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a panoramic view of the museum’s dramatic hanging gardens and the Port of Miami beyond. However, your gaze will also be drawn inward—to sleek white tables topped with a treasure trove of eye candy that runs the gamut from esoteric art theory books to quirky, poseable Cubebots from David Weeks and 3-D mirrors by Adam Frank that lend the lucid illusion of clouds.
Retail Director Michael Balbone curates the thought-provoking keepsakes.
Michael Balbone, director of retail operations, first scoured museum shops in Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and New York to develop a feel for the types of mementos typically offered in these stores. Then he turned the expected on its head: At PAMM he’s fine-tuned the art of curating keepsakes that defy literal interpretation. “The shop is an extension of our museum experience,” he says. “So we carry products that bend the perception of reality, that value process over form, that have wit and make you think just as much as the art on the walls.”
Eschewing the conventions of Euro-centric design stores, Balbone groups items by broad theme rather than by use. Toward the front of the shop, a table filled with flamingo-topped chopsticks and tomes on Miami graffiti art underscores the kitschy-cool nature of Florida souvenirs. The nearby America table offers a witty interpretation of all things USA—$100 bills made of seed paper that grow into plants, palm-size Egyptian pyramid pencil sharpeners lifted straight from the Eye of Providence imagery on the American dollar, tobacco scented soy candles, and an American flag spatula.
While certain items wink at the irreverence of art commercialism—“Would Leonardo really appreciate his Mona Lisa masterpiece on this set of CMYK coasters?” Balbone asks—others pay homage to the city’s thriving community of designers. Much of the jewelry is designed by local artists, including Tara Sokolow-Benmeleh’s Espiritútara line with its exotic evil eyes and tassels, and Aria Nero pieces that transform fashion jewelry of the past into contemporary wearable art. There’s also a bevy of greeting cards sure to wow anyone on the receiving end. “A majority of our cards are printed on sustainable paper with sustainable inks,” says Balbone. “We work with one company in particular, Good Paper, which produces cards made by hand by underserved communities in the Philippines and Rwanda.”
Hand-dyed Vietnamese shawls stand out against the selection of esoteric art books.
Most of the items “fit the mission,” as Balbone says, being both eco-friendly and socially conscious. Neon baskets, chairs, and trophy heads—all favorites of local interior designers looking to outfit their clients’ condos with one-of-a-kind pieces—are sculpted out of sustainable iron wire by LA-based studio Bend. Hand-dyed Marquet binh minh shawls in a vibrant spectrum of jewel tones are all fair trade. Plastic is hard to come by, even at the toy table, where bent-wood rainbows share space with kaleidoscopic puzzles by German toy company Grimm’s. For the record, the playthings would look just as welcome on a coffee table as in a playroom; you can even build your own miniature human skull out of wafer-thin strips of balsa wood from a company called Cardboard Safari.
For now, no online hub for the store exists, so you’ll have to venture to Museum Park to take home your own unique piece of PAMM. Choose carefully, though—your souvenir will become just as much of a conversation starter as it is a keepsake. “These aren’t pieces you’ll find anywhere else,” Balbone says. “And while they may not go together in the overall ‘story’ [of the exhibits], they triumph as art and a way of life very well.” 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 786-345-5694
photography by mary beth koeth