Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe at the Brooklyn Museum
An exhibit that would make Kelly from the iconic 2007 Shoes YouTube video drool with desire has come to fruition. Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe, which is on display at the Brooklyn Museum, was recently extended to March 1st 2015, due to its popularity. In the video about the exhibit, its curator Lisa Small says, “I didn’t want to present a chronological survey, I wanted to do a thematic sort of look.” It’s important to go to the show knowing it won’t provide an answer as to what the high-heel shoe universally represents, but does its best to encompass multifarious opinions about it. The only thing lacking from the exhibit was a larger discussion on gender and existence of high heel shoe in drag culture.
Upon entering the exhibit, a four-panel video confronts the viewer. The video follows a loose story, but the message is clear; the high-heel shoe is primarily a superficial object, but it’s the woman who wears it that truly defines it. Paradox is the theme of the show as a whole. This introduction opens to the Revised and Revisited section. Similar shoes from different eras are juxtaposed, exemplifying the recycling nature of fashion. T-straps from the 1920s look like they could be taken out from the showcase and worn contemporarily. In contrast, platform shoes, made famous by Ferragamo more recently, look very outdated.
The exhibit then opens up to red walls and a section commemorating the eastern influence on western high heel. Christian Louboutin and Prada feature shoes that look like the Geta of Japan, as well as the elevated sandal of the Qing dynasty. It’s hard to tell whether this was on purpose, but the red walls and video of Memoirs of a Geisha, playing on the wall make this portion a little garish and orientalist.
From this point on, the exhibition becomes more abstract, but this is not a detriment. It links the stiletto to its original fetishized sentiment in the section Glamour and Fetish. The erotic element will follow the stiletto as it becomes a staple of modern fashion. The last two sections of the exhibit, Metamorphosis and Moonwalk, represent surrealist themes of shoes and futuristic view of the heel. Metamorphosis attracts viewers for the longest time as they stare at genuine horse hoof turned high heel, fur covered stiletto, and elaborate bird winged shoe.
As a whole, the show offers an interesting take on the functionality and symbol of the high heel. While providing a primarily orientalist history, it achieves a western survey on the high heel. Some see it as a symbol of oppression, and some see it as a symbol of authority and confidence, but most fall somewhere in between. Whatever the case it’s an exhibit worth exploring.