Sneakers Take the Floor at Toledo Museum of Art

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The Rise of Sneaker Culture Opens Dec. 3, 2015

Sneakers have evolved from sportswear to fashion statement and cultural signifier. The Rise of Sneaker Culture, an exhibition opening in December at the Toledo Museum of Art, traces that evolution from the 1830s to today.

1_Dutton and Thorowgood

Thomas Dutton and Thorowgood, Running Shoe, 1860–65. Northampton Museums and Art Gallery. Photo: Greg Washington, courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum

Approximately one-hundred and sixty sneakers – from an 1860s spiked running shoe to contemporary sneaker collaborations with such artists and designers as Damien Hirst, Jeff Staple and Kanye West – go on display Dec. 3 in the Levis Galleries (Galleries 28 A-C). It is the first time the exhibition has been seen in Ohio after popular runs at the Bata Shoe Museum and Brooklyn Museum.

The Rise of Sneaker Culture is an exhibition that everyone connects with, because we all wear sneakers – even if we call them tennis shoes,” said Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art. “We’re delighted to present an exhibition that’s as fun as it is informative and culturally relevant.”

Among the sneakers demonstrating the pivotal role that athletic footwear plays in popular culture is a complete set of Air Jordans I-XX3. Other highlights include a pair of 1936 track shoes of the same type once worn by Olympic medalist Jesse Owens, the original Air Force 1 and an early Adidas Superstar, as well as sneakers and related prototype drawings spanning the careers of Nike sneaker design legends Tinker Hatfield, Eric Avar and Tobie Hatfield.

“This exhibition demonstrates how art and an everyday staple, such as a shoe, have a commonality,” said Halona Norton-Westbrook, exhibition coordinator, Mellon Fellow and associate curator of contemporary art at the Toledo Museum of Art. “In this instance, artists and fashion designers have used sneakers as a part of their palette for expression.”

Organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum, the traveling  exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. The Rise of Sneaker Culture traces the path that has led the sneaker where it is today and is further developed through film footage, photographic images and design drawings.

6_Waffle Trainer Ron Wood

Nike, Waffle Trainer, 1974. Northampton Museums and Art Gallery. Photo: Ron Wood, courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum.

“Sneakers appear to be the most democratic form of footwear – but in reality sneakers are part of a fascinating matrix of nuanced social meaning,” said Semmelhack. “Since the 19th century sneakers have been intimately linked to expressions of status as well as gender. I am particularly interested in how sneaker culture today is intertwined with shifts in idealized masculinity.”

Numerous sources contributed sneakers and artifacts to make this show possible. They include the Bata Shoe Museum, the Kosow Sneaker Museum, Northampton Museums and Art Gallery; the archives of manufacturers such as Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma and Reebok; and private collectors such as legendary hip-hop group Run–DMC, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder.

The exhibition closes at the Toledo Museum of Art on Feb. 28, 2016. The exhibition will then travel to the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, from June 12 through Aug. 14, 2016, and the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, from Sept. 9 through Nov. 27, 2016. The exhibition premiered at the Bata Shoe Museum and was more recently seen at the Brooklyn Museum, drawing large crowds of sneaker admirers.

A fully illustrated catalogue, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture, accompanies the exhibition. Published by the AFA in partnership with the Bata Shoe Museum and Rizzoli, the book includes an introduction by sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia; an in-depth essay on the history of sneaker culture and annotated exhibition checklist by Semmelhack; an essay on conserving your sneakers by Ada Hopkins, conservator of the Bata Shoe Museum; and interviews between Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder and Nike designers Tinker Hatfield and Eric Avar.

Among contributors to the catalogue are former Jordan Brand Footwear Design Director D’Wayne Edwards, NBA Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Beastie Boys member Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, U.S. Open tennis champion Stan Smith, creative designer Sophia Chang, Run-DMC member Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, fashion designer Jeremy Scott, Details magazine Style Director Eugene Tong, footwear designer Christian Louboutin, founding creative director of Def Jam Records Cey Adams and contemporary artist Tom Sachs, among others.

Copies of the catalogue are available for purchase at the Museum Store and at toledomuseum.org.

15_Pow Ron Wood

Pierre Hardy, Poworama, 2011. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, gift of Pierre Hardy. Photo: Ron Wood, courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum.

The Rise of Sneaker Culture is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum. The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Beta Shoe Museum. Generous support for the national tour of the exhibition is provided by Macy’s.

The showing in Toledo is made possible by Toledo Museum of Art members and the sustainable grant program of the Ohio Arts Council. The exhibition also is supported in part by Brooks Insurance, KeyBank and Taylor Cadillac.

Admission to the Toledo Museum of Art and to the exhibition is free. For more information, visit toledomuseum.org.

The American Federation of Arts is the leader in traveling exhibitions internationally. A nonprofit institution founded in 1909, the AFA is dedicated to enriching the public’s experience and understanding of the visual arts through organizing and touring art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishing exhibition catalogues featuring important scholarly research and developing educational programs. For more information about the AFA, visit www.afaweb.org.

With an international collection of over 13,000 shoes and related artifacts, the Bata Shoe Museum celebrates 4,500 years of footwear history in four distinctive rotating galleries. In addition to a popular semi-permanent exhibition, “All About Shoes,” the museum has three galleries for changing exhibitions, ensuring that each visit to the museum offers a new experience. Through the creation of its innovative exhibition, the museum strives to enlighten and entertain visitors of all ages. For every shoe there’s a story. Discover thousands at the Beta Shoe Museum. Further information is available at www.batashoemuseum.ca.


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