The exhibition, on show from November 15 2019 till June 21 2020, is conceived as a tour of the cultural and social history of footwear. Featuring some 500 pairs of shoes, it focuses on the emotions that different types of footwear can arouse. Shoes, when used as a status symbol, have meanings that embrace not only the wearer but also the observer. The high-heeled shoes of the baroque and rococo periods ostentatiously elevated the wearer above the common people. Today designer shoes by Dior, Ferragamo, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin or Stuart Weitzmann bring happiness.
Shoes can also be a symbol of power or a signifier or statement testifying to the allegiance of the person wearing them to a particular group. This is true of cyber goth boots, for example. The importance of footwear from a gender perspective forms the common thread that links gamines sporting Oxford shoes and dainty drag queens in their high heels. The exhibition also turns the spotlight on voyeurs who get their kicks from looking at certain types of footwear. As a fetish, shoes set collectors’ pulses racing, demanding absolute devotion. Pumps – the archetypal women’s shoe – are worn for their seductive qualities, while stilettos can whip up a frenzy of sexual desire in some or serve as a painful instrument of torture for others. The similarities between lace-up boots and laced corsets bear witness to the visually enticing qualities of tightly bound, curvaceous shapes. Many women have endured pain and deformation to make their feet small and dainty in the name of sexual attractiveness. While in China this famously took the shape of lotus or lily feet, and yet the bunions caused by Western fashion are no less telling an example.
No exhibition on this topic would be complete without considering shoes as a practical means of helping people get from A to B. This section focuses on the people who wear the shoes, and explores the meanings attached to the original function of the footwear – primarily to protect the feet and provide support while standing and walking. The old rubber tires, cork, straw, wood and nails used during the days of wartime hardship are juxtaposed with materials that artists and designers experiment with today, such as tree fungi, corn, pulverized stones and animals’ hoofs.
Some 35 outstanding and in some cases outlandish shoes designed as objects by international artists provide a contrast to the items from the Museum’s multifaceted collection, adding a more abstract note to the exhibition’s concepts and messages. These specific shoes in the exhibition were selected from the Virtual Shoe Museum by designers and artists such as Amber Ambrose Aurèle, Aya Feldman, Cristina Franceschini, Joyce de Gruiter, Xavier G-Solis, Zaha Hadid X United Nude, Kaarina Kaikkonen, Rachel de Kler, Kobi Levi, Nat-2, Peter Popps, Iris Schieferstein, Tali Sorit, Kermit Tesoro, Joyce Verhagen, Betony Vernon, Sousan Youssouf and Erwina Ziomkowska.
The exhibition is accompanied by catalog published by Edition Braus. It is on sale for €29,90 at the museum’s ticket office.
Curator of the exhibition: Dr. Isabella Belting, Head of Fashion / Textiles Collection. The contemporary shoes were selected from and organized by the Virtual Shoe Museum.
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Shoes ‘Love is a bitch 2’ by Joyce de Gruiter, photo by Bas Duijs.