Sunday, July 26, 2015

Killer Heels

“Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe“ is an exhibition at the Albuquerque Art Museum and was originated by Lisa Small, Exhibitions Curator at the Brooklyn Museum  with the additional assistance of Albuquerque’s Project Manager and Curator, Andrew Connors.  You might say that I went there kicking and screaming.   I expected high kitsch. Well there was some of that.  I have never been into fashion, and even less shoes though I did have employees once who competed with each other on who could buy the most shoes at the once or twice a year sale at Ferragamo on 57th Street in New York.

I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  This show was interesting and enjoyable and made art historical sense as well.  There were some shoes that I found absolutely hideous others that seemed most impractical, such as the toe shoes with heels so that you could never come down off toe, but then, thank goodness, I did not have to wear them. 

There were 6 commissioned videos, which did not seem necessary for the show but I believe that is what is done these days to interest the younger museum visitor.  Some had warnings to the effect of R ratings and they were a bit racy but that is all unless you find close ups of painted toes obscene.

The overarching label for the show reads in its first lines, “Loved and despised, coveted and mocked, high heels are perhaps the most polarizing and intriguing article of fashion.”  The only thing missing from that description is that they have also been considered unhealthy to wear and yet men agree that they make the women who wear them most alluring!  Actually, it was aristocratic men who first wore high heels at the end of the 16th century.  By the early 18th century they had shifted from representing the higher classes to identifying gender and worn by women. Every show needs funding and one of the newer ways of collecting funds is by “selling” sponsorships in the works of art in the show so those individuals are mentioned prominently on the labels.  I thought it was brilliant that 3 podiatrists sponsored 3 pair of boots!

There are a couple of sculptures by Virgil Ortiz (1969- ) from Cochiti Pueblo.  The one that introduces the exhibition is called, “Aeronaut Pilot of Survivor Ship Armada, Decision, 2015” and lent by the artist.  The woman represented is studying her choice of shoes deciding which she should put on before taking on the world.

There is so much to see in this exhibition that I won’t be able to do it justice. One fascinating pair of shoes that is too difficult to read in a photograph are by French designer Christian Louboutin, who has a number of heels in the show.  These are called Maire-Antoinette Fall/Winter 2008-9. They are called peep-toe stilettos.  On the ankle strap is an embroidered portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette wearing a towering wig topped with a miniature warship taken from an anonymous engraving of 1778.

The one pair of historical shoes that I feel obliged to mention is British these particular ones were produced between 1720 and 1739.  It became the most fashionable style for women during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774).  A painting by Hyacynthe Rigaud (1659-1743) of Louis XIV wearing a similar pair shown on the label looks back at the time when heels were stylish for men. These were lent to the exhibition from the Metropolitan Museum, which lent several other pair as well.

A number of years ago my wife, Penelope, co-curated an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum called “Rococo: The Continuing Curve 1730-2008” and she remembered this pair of shoes from the Italian fashion company Miu Miu called Cammeo Baroque Leather Wedge, Fall/Winter 2006.  They came to this exhibition Courtesy of Prada USA Corp.

Any exhibition about fashion has to include celebrities and this show (or as Ed Sullivan used to pronounce it, Shoe!) is no exception.  The “best”, in my opinion, were the shoes that were designed for Lady Gaga by Rem D. Koolhaas for United Nude and worn in 2012 for the launch of her perfume, FAME.  The photo is by Sonia Moskowitz.  Accompanied with a quote from “Fashion” from Artpop by Lady Gaga, “A girl is just as hot as the shoes she choose”!

Of course, all the designers get into the act and here is a pair, Chanel, Heel, Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2010 designed by famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel and shown here thanks to the latter.

There were a number of shoes that were a hoot and maybe the funniest in this category is a pair of hooves. The design is by the German, Iris Schieferstein, called “Horse Shoes 3” 2006, and lent through the courtesy of Iris Schieferstein and Frosch & Poortman.

The exhibition being in New Mexico the Albuquerque curator would want to represent innovation in heels in this part of the world so there are a pair of Beaded High-Heeled Boots, 2011 by Luseno/Shoshone Bannock Native artist, Jamie Okuma, lent by private collectors and a pair of beaded high-top tennis shoes with leather heels by, Kiowa artist Terri Greeves, lent by the Home & Away Gallery in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Everyone who goes to this exhibition will have different favorites and there is something for everyone. The show closes on August 9 in Albuquerque.  From there it will go on to the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Currier in Manchester, New Hampshire and the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh.

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