10 June 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain: Victoria & Albert Museum

I don't think I've ever yet been to a degree show where there was not at least one installation all about shoes - made of paper, dipped in ceramic, deconstructed, sticking out of walls, and so on. Although shoes in a fine art context do not feature highly in this exhibition - there a couple of shoes embedded in latex, this collection qualifies as high concept wearable art. Shoes particularly pique the imagination and heavily feature in fairy stories and myths across cultures, and are therefore ripe cultural shortcuts. Cinderella can be found in China, Japan and Korea as well as the European Grimm-version. The glass slipper from the latest Cinderella movie sparkles and shines with glittery glamour.

Less a historical review, the V&A have got together dreams and fantasies in footwear from many countries across the centuries. Although shoes in museums often draw the eye, the V&A are showing what might be called extreme versions or treasures of each type. Some are delightful and wearable now, while others truly defy the obvious laws of physics. It seems there is nothing new in shoes - platforms? The Venetians got to a vertiginous 50cm. Heel-less constructions? Marvellous constructs pre-date current on-trend boots by decades. Red soles - done before. Only the impossibly tiny slippers made for bound feet have no place in modern life - thankfully such excruciating and debilitating fashions have gone, although some porn-chic items have alternative purposes.

As well as the treasures, the embroidered and bejewelled shoes, the viewer can't help wondering how those shoes would feel to wear, and often, just how some shoes could possibly worn at all, let alone walk in. The point, of course, is that shoes are not always for such practical purposes as walking, and high status shoes often left the walking to others, while the wearers tottered in these fabulous creations.

Many people confess to having a thing about shoes, whether that is for buying and wearing, or else lusting over. I am reminded of a friend I once had, who had tiny feet - size 2. She sometimes found her husband in their bedroom with all her shoes lined up against the wall, just looking at them. Graduating artists will always find the shoe poignant subject material. If until now you have been a bit shoe-resistant, this exhibition will convince that for as long as people have been wearing shoes, it is clearly a human trait to show off, display wealth and parade their sexuality from the ground up.

Images and credits coming soon - camera misbehaving.

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain
Victoria & Albert Museum
1st April - 19th July 2015



10th June 2015

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