Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't fail to miss this show

The Speed Art Museum, our local establishment, has a big show that opened last weekend, and I went to the festivities.  The subject was sneakers.

You might wonder what this has to do with art, and why it's in a museum.  You would not be alone.

My art pals and I thought maybe there would be art related to sneakers, but no.  Instead there were sneakers.  Three rooms full of sneakers, each pair exhibited importantly in vitrines with extensive info on the signs.

I  don't know about you, but this information doesn't do much for me.

The shoes weren't displayed with much imagination.  For every pair that got tipped up to show the fancy sole --

like these commemorating the election of President Obama -- there were two pairs that just sat there like lumps on a log.  The pair below was supposedly special because it was designed by Christian Loboutin, complete with red sole.  Which we had to imagine.

This next pair supposedly had "insoles printed with a unique water graphic," which again we had to imagine.

There was one piece of art, which I liked.

Nari Ward, We the People (detail below)

But I wonder why a show in an art museum didn't include more art.

I know that in recent years fashion has become the great hobby of the rich and famous; "supermodels" are rich and famous themselves, while movie stars and other celebrities jostle for front-row seats at the designer shows.  Who wins the Oscar is only slightly more important than who wore what to the ceremony.

Mainstream museums like the Met have had blockbuster shows in recent years showcasing the work of famous designers, but that's in a town where fashion is still a huge economic sector.  I have to wonder who in Louisville KY really cares about sneakers. Yes, we have more than our share of basketball fanatics, but I wonder how many of them will make their way to the art museum, especially if they have to pay $8 to get in.

After we saw the exhibit, I said to my friends, this is a two-fer: it demonstrates all that's wrong with American society (where sneakers can go for thousands of dollars and kids can get killed for their shoes) and it demonstrates all that's wrong with American museums (where all kinds of trendy, expensive objects can be deemed art and displayed with a straight face next to the Rembrandts).  To get the bad taste out of our mouths, we went out and got ice cream on the way home.  It was the highlight of the evening.


  1. I wonder if this is the same sneaker show that just recently closed at the High Museum here in Atlanta? I skipped it. Like you, my first thought is I'd like to see more art and fewer objects from pop culture-- fashion, motorcycles, sneakers--in museums. But then I think about the recent car show at the High, or the show of Iris van Herpen's fashions last year, which were really body sculptures more than fashion, and I wonder. Good design is good design no matter the media. I also recall how quilts and other fiber art have been excluded from museums until quite recently--and are still too often excluded--because "they are not art." Like quilts, sneakers are functional objects made of fabric. They are prized by those frequently excluded from high art discourse. In the end, the decision about what belongs in the museum reflects, as it always has, the reigning socio-political values of the time. As you noted.
    All that said, it does sound like the mounting of this particular show could have been better.
    Sorry for the length of this comment--you got me thinking!

    1. Yes, it is the same show, which has been touring since 2013. I think the difference between sneakers and quilts being shown as ART is that quilts are made to be art (and have a hard time getting accepted by the museum as such) but sneakers are made to be fashion (and apparently have an easy time getting accepted by the museum).

      Don't know if museums actually think of sneakers or other consumer objects as ART or if they just cynically think they'll get more people in the door by putting them on display. After all, it's just like a STORE, and people know how to visit a store....

  2. I like "We the People" in shoelaces as well. That is art - evocative, meaningful. Really love that!

    I'm a bit of a shoe harlot, so love shoes, but yeah, a bunch of sneakers? If your pics were the highlights, I would've been irritated at the $8 outlay, never mind gas parking and time.

    Also, I was offended that they put the President on the bottom of a shoe. I got a really strong negative feeling on that. Gum goes there. Dog poo goes there. mud. muck. The prez's face? Not so much. It appears that they meant well, and to honor the historical nature of his Presidency,and weren't trying to offend to make a 'statement', but IMO that was a really poor choice.

  3. The museum budget might have had something to do with it. I doubt this show commanded a high fee.