July 10-October 4, 2015
The Brooklyn Museum
From their modest origins in the mid-nineteenth century to high-end sneakers created in the past decade by designers such as Christian Louboutin and Prada, sneakers have become a global obsession. The Rise of Sneaker Culture is the first exhibition to explore the complex social history and cultural significance of the footwear now worn by billions of people throughout the world. The exhibition, which includes approximately 150 pairs of sneakers.
Organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) and the Bata Shoe Museum, the touring exhibition explores the evolution of the sneaker from its beginnings to its current role as status symbol and urban icon. Included are works from the archives of manufacturers such as Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma, and Reebok as well as private collectors such as hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia, and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder. Also included are film footage, interactive media, photographic images, and design drawings that contextualize the sneakers and explore the social history, technical innovation, fashion trends, and marketing campaigns that have shaped sneaker culture over the past two centuries.
Organized into five sections, The Rise of Sneaker Culture includes an 1860 spiked running shoe, a pair of 1936 track shoes, Air Jordans 1-23, the original Air Force 1 and early Adidas Superstars, as well as contemporary sneakers by Damien Hirst, Jeremy Scott, Jeff Staple, and Kanye West. A section will showcase sneakers and related prototype drawings spanning the career of Nike sneaker design legend Tinker Hatfield.
The development of rubber-soled footwear from the 1820s to the 1920s is chronicled in the section “Rubber Revolution,” which explores how the new vulcanization process was applied to the manufacture of comfortable and practical athletic footwear. During the same period, an increasingly industrialized society allowed people more leisure time, leading to the rise in popularity of sports and physical culture. Included in this section are one of the oldest existing running shoes, created by Thomas Dutton and Thorowgood in the 1860s, and the 1917 Converse All Star/Non Skid sneaker.
Spanning the 1920s to the 1960s, “The Body Politic: Sneakers, Statehood and Sporting,” examines the development of specialized sport shoes and explores the democratization of the sneaker in relation to nationalism and the evolution of consumer culture. Sneakers were increasingly worn by a wide range of socio-economic and age groups, and as early as the 1920s celebrities like basketball player Chuck Taylor and tennis player Jack Purcell began promoting brands. Included in this section are the 1920s Keds rubber-soled, canvas top shoe, a version of which is still in production; the Converse Gripper, made from the late 1940s through the early 1950s; and the Dominion Fleet high-heeled women’s athletic shoe ca.1925.
The section “Sports Stars and Status Sneakers: Fashioning Fitness in the Twentieth Century” focuses on the 1970s and 1980s, when many high-end sneakers moved beyond basic athletic use to become emblems of conspicuous consumption. This section explores the growth of fitness culture in relation to the “Me Generation” and how the sneaker evolved into a fashion item as prized on the street as in the gym, closing with the two most pivotal events in contemporary sneaker culture: the 1985 launch of the Air Jordan franchise and Run-DMC signing on with Adidas after the 1986 release of “My Adidas.” Included are specialized signature sneakers like Reebok Freestyles released in 1981 for aerobic exercise, the extremely rare Bata and Wilson (1977); and the Puma Suede, which was later endorsed by Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
The section “Fresh Out the Box’: Sneaker Culture and Shifting Masculinities” focuses on the synergies between hip-hop, basketball, and sneakers during the 1980s, when sneakers were transformed into treasured personal possessions, collectible items, and touch points for a mass audience. Boldly reintroducing color and pattern into men’s dress, fashionable sneakers became central to the idea of contemporary urban masculinity as markers of status and taste. Designer sneakers recently produced by Lanvin, Hussein Chalayan, Jimmy Choo, and Yohji Yamamoto raised the sneaker to high fashion. Included in this section are examples of rare cult classics such as Louis Vuitton x Kanye West Don (2009), Nike Stewie Griffin LeBron VI (2009), Nike Dunk Supremes (2003), Adidas x Jeremy Scott Totems (2013), and the Dunk Low Pro SB Pigeon (2005).
The exhibition concludes with “Design and Innovation,” which includes a selection of Tinker Hatfielddesigns, among them the Nike Trainer 1, the first cross-trainer, and the iconic Air Jordan III and XI, as well as Eric Avar’s Nike Foamposite, Paul Litchfield’s Reebok Pump, and GE x Android Homme. Also included in the section are excerpts from the documentary Just for Kicks, covering sneaker culture from the 1970s to 2004.
The Rise of Sneaker Culture is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum. The exhibition was curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator at the Bata Shoe Museum. The Brooklyn presentation has been coordinated by Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the AFA in partnership with the Bata Shoe Museum and Rizzoli. Included are an introduction by Bobbito Garcia, essays by Elizabeth A. Semmelhack, shoe conservator Ada Hopkins, an interview between Dee Wells and Nike designers Tinker Hatfield and Eric Avar, and contributions by sneaker experts including Cey Adams, James Bond, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Marc Eckō, D’Wayne Edwards, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz, Christian Louboutin, Hiroki Nakamura, Tom Sachs, Jeremy Scott, and Stan Smith, among others.
Subway: Seventh Avenue express (2 or 3) to Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop; Lexington Avenue express (4 or 5) to Nevins Street, cross platform and transfer to the 2 or 3. Bus: B41, B69, B48.On-site parking available.