Rosey Blackmore, Merchandise Director at Tate Enterprises, shares an insight into her work managing a small team who create exhibition merchandise - with highlights including a Damien Hirst coffee cups, Lichtenstein cushion covers and a range of artist designed silk scarves
At Tate we are lucky to host some of the world’s most most-visited art exhibtions, and the gallery shops at Tate Modern and Tate Britain need to reflect the experience of the visitor. The goal of the merchandise team is to create products which delight our audience and make money for Tate to support our programme.
My buying career started on the high street, where I worked for a big department store group, which gave me a wide variety of buying experience – I then joined Tate in 1998, in the run up to the opening of Tate Modern.
When planning products to accompany an exhibition, we’ll begin thinking about merchandise up to two years before a very big show to allow enough time to plan things thoroughly. We start by looking at images of each piece to consider the nature of the work and ask a whole series of questions, such as: which artworks will the public will find the most appealing? How well will they translate onto merchandise? Are there products which we could buy from other suppliers that would be relevant to this artist’s work? And very importantly - what sorts of products do we believe would appeal to the audience for this exhibition?
If the exhibition is with a living artist, we ask them if they would be willing to create something special for us to sell in support of the show. They may see merchandise as a democratic way of giving a wide audience the opportunity to own an affordable piece of their work; or perhaps they are more excited by creating something special to sell that reflects their practice. The scarf which Grayson Perry created for us is a personal favourite - it’s both beautiful and witty, and still makes me smile every time I see it.If the artist is no longer alive and died within the last seventy years the images of the artworks will still be protected by copyright, and that means we need to seek permission from their estate to reproduce them on any products. We work as closely as possible with an artist’s estate to understand their approach to merchandise but we don’t always get permission to create the products we’ve planned. Of course it’s very important to us that we respect not only the wishes of the estate, but also the lender of the work - the organisation or individual who owns the artwork.
Probably the most controversial decision we make is which works to reproduce as postcards! We consult widely on this, canvassing our colleagues and taking advice from the show’s curator but inevitably, there are always images that we don’t select that are requested.
The team and I delivered a wide range of products to support the recently opend Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition and are now preparing for The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free in September. As it’s spring we are already starting to think about Christmas!
Visit the Tate Online shop, or browse the shops in our galleries