Prospect Heights

Heel Appeal: Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibit features hundreds of killer shoes

September 9, 2014 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Chopines, made in Italy from 1550 to 1650, were made out of silk, leather and wood.
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While Fashion Week is invading Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum is featuring its own fashionable exhibition — “Killer Heels.”

“Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum now through Feb. 15, 2015, and features more than 200 shoes. Showcasing an array of heels — from Italian heels from the year 1550 to more contemporary pieces — the exhibition attempts to examine the mystique and transformative power of the elevated shoe and its varied connections to fantasy, power and identity.

“My goal was to bring together a group of historical and contemporary high-heeled shoes that spoke to all the amazing designs that we have seen over centuries,” said Lisa Small, the museum’s curator of exhibitions. “I was looking for designs that are innovative in some way, that push boundaries, that sometimes don’t even look like a shoe at all.”

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High heels have been around since at least the first century B.C., as there are early statues of the Goddess Aphrodite in high-platform sandals. The oldest set of heels in the exhibit are Italian-made shoes designed in 1550. They are high platforms called chopines that were made out of silk, leather and wood, and were worn by noblewomen and courtesans in Renaissance Venice.

The exhibition is split into six different sections — Revival and Reinterpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Metamorphosis and Space Walk. The heels featured include early forms of the elevated shoe, architecturally-inspired wedges and one with razor-sharp stilettos. One shoe was simply designed to look like a horse’s foot.

People walking through the exhibition, which is on the first floor of the museum, will spot heels worn by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and many worn by Lady Gaga, including a black leather bootie with an eight-inch heel designed by Rem D. Koolhaas.

“We’re living in a very interesting moment in which footwear is both a focus of cultural meaning, but where many high heels also are seen as works of art,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, a senior curator at Bata House Museum in Toronto, which has loaned pieces for the exhibition. The majority of the shoes featured at the museum certainly fall into the art category rather than the practical one.

There are also six short films featured in the exhibition that were inspired by high heels that were specifically commissioned by artists Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, Zach Gold, Steven Klein, Nick Knight, Marilyn Minter and Rashaad Newsome.

The exhibition, “vividly demonstrates the incredible staying power of the high heel,” both as a status symbol and as a part of feminine allure,” said Caroline Weber, an expert in 18th century French literature and culture. “In the history of fashion, not a single other accessory has functioned for that long and with that much consistency.”

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Additional reporting by Ula Ilnytzky, Associated Press

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