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This Museum Gift Shop Sells SnapChats and 'Second Life' Mansions

At the Walker Art Center's museum store, you can buy 'Intangibles,' including a suite of ringtones, and a one-on-one dance performance.
March 20, 2015, 5:20pm
CK Ghost, Chen Chen & Kai Williams, 2015.Images courtesy The Walker Art Center

At the Walker Shop, you can buy a handmade “ghost money” envelope to be burned at the gravesite of a loved one for $170. Your purchase, however, will only be complete the moment you set it on fire—thereby launching it into the afterlife—and send in a video documentation of the deed. Part-conceptual art piece, part-actual product, designers Chen Chen & Kai WilliamsCK Ghost belongs to a collection of experiences and impalpable objects for sale at the Walker Art Center’s museum store.

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Intangibles is a pop-up collection that includes a suite of original ringtones composed by Nico Muhly, SnapChat photographs by Alec Soth, blueprints of catastrophic events, and a vast oceanview property in Second Life.

For Walker's design director Emmet Byrne and retail director Michelle Tobin, programming the shop was akin to curating an exhibition. They asked artists to think of the online shopping marketplace as a medium and challenged them to consider how they could shape their oeuvres into compelling products. “I think artists are very much diversifying what they do and where they do it now,” Byrne explains to The Creators Project. “They’re constantly renegotiating their relationship to their practice and also to their audience, to the economies that they exist within, and how they make money.” He adds that the role of contemporary art institutions is to meet artists where they’re creating.

An interesting challenge in culling together products with no form was the question of price. Each artist approached value in a different way, says Byrne. For some, the pricing on the ephemerality of what they were producing. For example, a ringtone was an original piece of music composed by Muhly that you could keep, while on the other hand, BodyCartography’s performance piece was an undocumented experience. Some artists, like Slavs & Tatars, took into consideration their consulting fees and travel expenditures: They would visit the home of the buyer, converse about books, and then skewer three of the buyer’s books onto a massive kebab stick, creating a bespoke sculpture.

Many of the participating artists considered the platform to be a way to connect with an audience member in a very personal way. Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Sam Green wanted to “make something sublime,” says Byrne, so for $2,500, a customer will be able to witness a “live documentary,” a hybrid of film and performance. They’ll be connected to Green who will customize for them a unique screening that could range from a work on the side of a building, a projection onto clouds or fog, or a viewing from inside a moving taxi cab.

Although the idea for Intangibles was a half-joke when first suggested, Byrne is excited to continuing experimenting with the retail space as a platform for conceptual art. "Each one of these is a prototype of a future interaction," he says. "We want to look at every piece and learn from how it works." He compares the curating process of the pop-up store to creating an issue of a magazine, and is interested in expanding the scope of who they invite to this project in the future, whether they approach scientists, cartographers, writers or activists. "Creativity is infused into our daily lives. This prompt would be really appealing to a lot of people, not just artists."

See more of the formless art objects for sale at Walker's Intangibles.

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