These Boots Weren’t Made For Walking

An Exhibition Review for FootPrint: The Tracks of Shoes in Fashion at the ModeMuseum Antwerpen

“There is no limit to beauty, no saturation point in design, no end to the material.” – Salvatore Ferragamo

The lifeblood of any outfit, shoes are perhaps the most compelling storytellers of not only the history of fashion, but also about us. Beyond comfort, shoes adapt to our needs, desires, and imaginations, while at the same time they manifest our deepest secrets and insecurities. This is precisely what FootPrint: The Tracks of Shoes in Fashion at the ModeMuseum Antwerpen answers to ― that shoes are physical, schizophrenic objects capable of blending idealism and realism all at once, hence the curator’s tagline, “Anything can be a shoe”.

The exhibition is composed of the vast personal shoe collection of Geert Bruloot (the curator) and Eddy Michiels, which puts Carrie Bradshaw’s entirely to shame, as well as loans from other fashion museums and private collections around the world. Unlike the V&A’s concurrent exhibition Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, which explores the historical extremes of shoemaking from antiquity to present, or Brooklyn Museum’s travelling exhibition, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe which focuses on high heels exclusively, FootPrint indulges in 20th and 21st century shoe design and celebrates modern shoemaking innovations that sample ideas from both the past and the speculative future.

Categorized by subcultural genres and themes such as ‘Space Age’, ‘Baroque’, ‘Dance’, and ‘Fetish’ (very similarly to MoMu’s previous exhibition on Dries Van Noten), are specimens by masters including Roger Vivier, Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Miuccia Prada, Patrick Cox, Paco Rabanne, Tabitha Simmons, Balenciaga, Nicholas Kirkwood, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Viktor & Rolf, Alexander McQueen, and Salvatore Ferragamo. The exhibition especially takes pride in its local Belgian designers including Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, A.F. Vandevorst, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Jurgi Persoons, whose semi-invisible shoes are on the publicity for the exhibition.

Visionary and extraordinary barely begin to describe what is seen beyond the glass encased stages. Here, the worlds of fashion and art are inseparable entities; dreams and nightmares emerge as material, physical realities. Contextualized by historical figures and events, shoes are seen as the representative centerpoint of human culture. Like a work of art, fashion in general has the power to question aestheticism, tear apart conventions of beauty, explore sexuality, and can scrutinize political, societal, and economic structures. It is thought-provoking notions such as these that FootPrint succeeds at addressing throughout the entirety of the exhibition.

Some examples: Two 1980s era readymades made up of shoe parts by Ai Weiwei question the very basis of form and function generalities by taking a shoe, decontextualizing it and making it completely unwearable; the possibility of fashion is in turn, speculated satirically. Christian Louboutin and David Lynch’s collaboration hypereroticize the shoe, invoking danger and sexuality through works of art that cannot be walked in. Jurgi Persoons strips away the stylistic elements of the shoe altogether to just the functional heels and straps, leaving the rest up to the wearer’s imagination.

The exhibition makes it clear that the perseverance of the innovative fashion industry remains strong. As societal norms continuously transform and climate change increasingly threatens our environment, designers take these notions as inspiration for their designs and incorporate new materials, methods, and resources for their work. For example Adidas, also the sponsor of FootPrint, recently proposed to create sneakers made out of plastic found in the ocean as part of an environmental cleanup initiative.

Shoe lover or not, there is a lot to be taken from this exhibition. Shoes are awe-inspiring works of art with the ability to transform, adapt, and even make earnest social statements. See for yourself: FootPrint: The Tracks of Shoes in Fashion will run until February 14th, 2016 at the ModeMuseum Antwerpen.

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