Shoe and tell: New exhibit discusses sneaker culture

The Brooklyn Paper
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This is a show to sprint to!

Sneaker fans can get their kicks at a new Brooklyn Museum exhibit devoted to athletic shoes and the people who love them. The designer of “Out of the Box: the Rise of Sneaker Culture” said that Brooklyn is the perfect spot to launch the traveling show. The borough’s reputation, she said, matches the urban and masculine nature of sneaker culture.

“It’s infused with a very seductive hyper-masculinity,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, the designer of the exhibit. “There’s a toughness and authenticity that comes out of Brooklyn that just speaks to people globally.”

And the poster shoe of the exhibit is the Air Jordan I, named after Brooklyn-born basketball icon Michael Jordan. The shoe appears on all of the exhibit’s posters and ads

“Air Jordans are so central to sneaker culture, they’re in every city around the world, and I think the fact that he’s a Brooklyn native is fantastic,” said Semmelhack.

The Brooklyn Museum has explored shoe culture before — a 2014 exhibit explored the history of high heels — and Semmelhack, who is the senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, says that covering sneakers is a natural next step.

“How could I not do sneakers?” she said. “I think that there’s no argument that sneakers and sneaker culture has been so important to culture for the last 50 years.”

Visitors will only need a sneak peek to discover that the sneaker’s history runs all the way back to the 19th century. The show has placards overflowing with information to separate shoes designed for different sports, including basketball, tennis, and track and field, and flatscreen TVs show each type of shoe in action.

“There’s a sneaker for everyone in here,” Semmelhack said.

The Brooklyn stop of the tour has one unique feature that will not recur at other locations: designer sneakers dangling from wires above the heads of museum visitors. The display is a nod to the urban tradition of hanging shoes on a telephone line.

“It’s kind of a fun, quasi-provocative, design element that we added to our presentation here,” said Brooklyn Museum curator Lisa Small. “We were thinking about ways that sneakers are seen in culture today and if you live in an urban environment, I’m sure that some time or another you have seen sneakers hanging over wire.”

Small wants the exhibit to educate people on both sneaker culture and urban culture, and to quell any negative connotations associated with the cultures.

“We have an incredibly diverse audience here at the Brooklyn museum, so we took this popular cultural item of fashion, and really investigated it in a rich historical way,” said Small. “We’re hoping that people come, whether they are sneakerheads, or they’re just interested in design, fashion, or really history and culture.”

“Out of the Box: the Rise of Sneaker Culture” at Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638–5000,]. On display until Oct. 4. Open Wed 11 am–6 pm; Thu, 11 am–10 pm, Fri–Sun, 11 am–6 pm; Mon, Tue, closed. $16 suggested donation.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Homey from Crooklyn says:
Keep on dumbing down the museums....
July 22, 2015, 11:30 am
killing the breeze from bushwick says:
sneakers have definitely expanded outside of functional fashion and into the realm of art and social commentary.
July 24, 2015, 1:44 pm

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