Touching artwork is strictly forbidden in most museums, let alone buying it and taking it home. But the Design Museum in London wants visitors to do precisely that.

It has transformed its gift shop to create what it describes as "the world's first artist-designed supermarket" as a way of getting around coronavirus lockdown rules.

Under the government's plan to ease restrictions, museums in England have to remain shut until 17 May at the earliest, even as gyms, hairdressing salons and pubs have reopened.

But the west London museum has avoided weeks of further closure by converting its gift shop into a store selling essential items.

The products - ranging from rice and coffee to the most modern of essentials, face masks - are wrapped in packaging designed by ten emerging artists.

The Design Museum lost 92% of its income due to forced pandemic closures

Proceeds from the five-day exhibition, which runs from today to Sunday, with financial backing from gin company Bombay Sapphire, will go towards a fund for artists and designers.

Images of empty shelves and shortages of toilet paper and pasta at supermarkets marked the start of the pandemic in the UK last March.

But the Design Museum shop and its products are far from mundane: clean lines of brightly coloured jars and cans are neatly arranged on the shelves, with nothing out of place.

Museum director Tim Marlow said the exhibition called into question the nature of what is judged to be essential in everyday life.

So-called non-essential retail reopened in England on 12 April.

"Isn't creativity essential? We're in a shop that's actually a work of art. From the street you see this flattened pattern or canvas, but once you're inside the experience is completely different," Mr Marlow said.

"You can buy essential food items at competitive prices. It's about who profits, who funds, and exchange as much about culture.

"There's a fun element to it, there's a questioning and critical element and a culturally serious aspect to it.

"We're bemused by the fact that non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers can open and museums will have to wait until the 17th (of May), but it is as it is."

The Design Museum lost 92% of its income due to forced closures but received a government grant of almost £3 million (€3.4m) last year to keep it afloat.

And Mr Marlow believes the cultural sector has an important role to play if it adapts to the reality of the post-pandemic world.

"We've done this in two months - that's quite quick and requires a lot of agility," he said.

"I want to affirm the relevance of museums. We're not just about spectacle. We are about showcasing and researching solutions for the problems we face post-pandemic."