Exhibition | Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 23, 2015


Pale-blue shoes, silk satin with silver lace and braid, diamond and sapphire buckles, England, 1750s (London: V&A: T.70+A—1947; M.48+A—1962). Photographed on the mantelpiece in The Norfolk House Music Room, the British Galleries at the V&A.

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Press release from the V&A:

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 13 June 2015 — 31 January 2016
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham, 11 June — 9 October 2016
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, 9 November 2016 — 12 March 2017
Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia, March — June 2017

Curated by Helen Persson

The transformative power of extreme footwear will be explored in the V&A’s summer 2015 fashion exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. More than 200 pairs of historic and contemporary shoes from around the world will be on display, many for the first time. The exhibition will explore the agonizing aspect of wearing shoes as well as the euphoria and obsession they can inspire.

The V&A’s shoe collection is unrivalled, spanning the globe and over 2000 years. For Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, curator Helen Persson has delved into this, other international collections and the wardrobes of private individuals to select an exceptional range of shoes from a sandal decorated in pure gold leaf originating from ancient Egypt to futuristic looking shoes created using 3D printing.

ShoesShoes worn by or associated with high profile figures including Marilyn Monroe, Queen Victoria, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the Hon Daphne Guinness will be shown as well as famous shoes, such as the ballet slippers designed for Moira Shearer in the 1948 film The Red Shoes. Footwear for men and women by 70 named designers including Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, and Prada will be on display. Historic lotus shoes made for bound feet and 16th-century chopines, silk mules with vertiginous platforms designed to lift skirts above the muddy streets, will also feature.

Exhibition curator, Helen Persson, said: “Shoes are one of the most telling aspects of dress. Beautiful, sculptural objects, they are also powerful indicators of gender, status, identity, taste and even sexual preference. Our choice in shoes can help project an image of who we want to be.”

The exhibition will be shown over two floors. The luxurious, boudoir design of the ground floor gallery will examine three themes: transformation, status, and seduction.

‘Transformation’ will present shoes that are the things of myth and legend, opening with different cultural interpretations of the Cinderella story from across the globe. It will explore the concept of shoes being empowering as passed down through folklore, illustrated by the Seven League Boots from the ‘Hop o’ My Thumb’ tale, and how this feeds into contemporary marketing for such things as football boots and the concept of modern-day, fairy-tale shoemakers, whose designs will magically transform the life of the wearer.

‘Status’ will reveal how impractical shoes have been worn to represent privileged and leisurely lifestyles—their design, shape and material can often make them unsuitable for walking—and how shoes also dictate the way in which the wearer moves, how they are seen and even heard. Shoes on display will include Indian men’s shoes with extremely long toes, noisy slap-sole shoes worn in Europe during the 17th century and the now infamous Vivienne Westwood blue platforms worn by Naomi Campbell in 1993. ‘Status’ will also demonstrate how historically shoe fashions originated from the European royal courts, while today the focus has shifted to famous shoe designers. Desirable shoes such as the ‘Pompadour’, worn by trend-setting women in the 18th-century French court will sit together with designs by the some of the most well-known names in fashion today, including Alexander McQueen and Sophia Webster.

Within ‘Seduction’, the shoes represent an expression of sexual empowerment or a passive source of pleasure. Like feet, shoes can be objects of fetishism. High Japanese geta, extreme heels, and tight-laced leather boots will be on display as well as examples of erotic styles channeled by mainstream fashion in recent years.

In contrast, the laboratory style setting of the first floor gallery is dedicated to dissecting the processes involved in designing and creating footwear, laying out the story from concept to final shoe. This will be enhanced by films and animations that peel back the layers of a shoe and reveal how they are made. The displays will show how makers combine traditional craftsmanship with technological innovation and how they unite function with art.

Designer sketches, materials, embellishments and shoe lasts, such as the lasts created by H. & M. Rayne for Princess Diana, will be on show, alongside ‘pullovers’ from Roger Vivier for Christian Dior. The section will highlight the makers’ ingenuity in creating innovative styles and dealing with the structural challenges of creating ever higher heels and more dramatic shapes and will feature filmed interviews with five designers and makers.

The exhibition will go on to examine shifts in consumption and production—with examples from an 18th-century ‘cheap shoe warehouse’, one-off handmade men’s brogues and trainers made in China. It will also look at the future of shoe design, with experiments of material and shapes, moulding and plastics. On display will be footwear that pushes the boundaries of possibility, including the form-pressed ‘Nova’ shoes designed by Zaha Hadid with an unsupported 16cm heel and Andreia Chaves’ ‘Invisible Naked’ shoes that fuse a study of optical illusion with 3D printing and high quality leather making techniques. The last section of the exhibition will look at shoes as commodities and collectibles. Six different people’s collections will be presented from trainers to luxury footwear.

Sponsored by Clarks, supported by Agent Provocateur, with additional thanks to the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers

Note (added 14 June 2016) — Venues updated to reflect the latest schedule.

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A preview of the accompanying publication is available via Issuu:

Helen Perrson, ed., Shoes: Pleasure and Pain (London: V&A Publishing, 2015), 176 pages ISBN: 978-1851778324, £25 / $40.

9781851778324_p0_v1_s600Beautiful, sculptural objects, shoes are powerful indicators of gender, status, identity, taste, and even sexual preference. Our choice in shoes can be aspirational, even fantastical—and projects an image not just of who we are, but who we want to be. Feet are made for walking, but shoes may not be. Featuring extensive new photography, this is a beautiful and authoritative guide to the history and culture of footwear. Iconic creations by celebrated designers sit alongside masterpieces by unknown craftsmen in this book.

Embracing both men’s and women’s footwear, from the Chinese lotus shoe to laser-printed contemporary shoes-as-sculpture, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain engages with the cultural significance of shoes—the source of their allure, how they are made, and the people who buy and wear them. Contributors from a wide range of disciplines consider subjects as diverse as ballet slippers and fetishism, shoes and ceramics, traditional shoemaking, and the obsessive shoe collector. The book also includes a comprehensive discussion of the history of shoe design, and case studies including Marie-Antoinette’s shoe collection and the footwear of the Maharajas.

Helen Persson is curator of Chinese textiles and dress in the V&A’s Asian Department.

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Helen Persson, Introduction

Part 1: The Lure of Shoes
Hilary Davidson, Shoes and Magical Objects
Elizabeth Semmelhack, The Allure of Height
Rowan Bain, Status and Power in the Hamam
Divia Patel, Bling: Footwear of the Maharajas
Cassie Davies-Strodder, Shoes and Sex
Valerie Steele, Ballet Shoes and Fetishism
Rowan Bain, The Shoe and the Body

Part 2: Art and Innovation
Naomi Braithwaite, Shoe Design: Creativity and Process
Helen Persson, The Beauty of Shoemaking
Jana Scholze, Extreme Future
Sonia Solicari, The Shoemaker and the Ceramicist
Joanne Hackett, Plastic Galore
Christopher Breward, Men in Heels

Part 3: Shoe Obsession
Cally Blackman, The Rise of the Celebrity Shoe Designer
Giorgio Riello, Production for Consumption
Kirstin Kennedy, Cracowes and Duckbills
Helen Persson, Lotus Shoes for the Masses
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, Marie Antoinette’s Love of Shoes
Karin M. Ekström, The Show Cabinet: Collectors Case Study

Parts of a Shoe
Picture Credits

Call for Papers | Know Thyself: Early Modern Images

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on January 23, 2015

From H-ArtHist:

Know Thyself: A Conference on Early Modern Images
University College London, 2 May 2015

Proposals due by 2 February 2015

Nosce te ipsum/ know thyself

The tragedy of Narcissus was his failure to recognise the image he admired on the surface of the pool as his own. His fate might have improved, had he possessed the deeper self-knowledge implied by the Delphic maxim, “know thyself.” The question prompted by Narcissus, of how images pertain to self-knowledge, is especially relevant to the Early Modern period, during which the ancient aphorism nosce te ipsum was engaged provocatively in a range of visual material: it is quoted in illustrations of anatomy, natural history and cartography, and evoked in religious and secular works of art. This renewed cultural imperative to self-knowledge is bound up with the scientific and technological advancements of the period. It is epitomised by the technical refinement of the looking glass, which enabled a person to admire—or better, scrutinise—her own face with unprecedented clarity.

The premise of this conference is that consideration of the Delphic maxim can be productively channeled into interrogating the role of the image in relation to the self: How might images mobilise the philosophical challenge to “know thyself”? What are the mechanisms within images that invite participation in the practices of selfdiscovery and self-representation? The conference aims to explore the role of visuality in the early modern pursuit of self-knowledge in a broad sense. As such, it invites approaches to visual material by which the Delphic maxim is evoked knowingly, or otherwise. Focusing on images from the period c.1500–1800, proposals for papers may include, but are by no means limited to: mortality and bodily materiality, cultural identity and difference (race, religion, gender…), subjectivity and self-fashioning, and encounters with the new world and new technologies.

UCL Department of History of Art invites proposals for 20-minute presentations on the theme of ‘self-knowledge’ in early modern images. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Sophie Morris
sophie.morris@ucl.ac.uk and Nathanael Price n.price.12@ucl.ac.uk by 2nd February 2015.


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