Admiring the Art of the High-Heeled Shoe with LISA SMALL of the BROOKLYN MUSEUM
By Eden Herbstman
Stilettos, and platforms, and wedges, oh my! As of September 10th the Brooklyn Museum will become the Wonka”s Chocolate Factory of high heels. Curated by Lisa Small, the museum is set to open their Killer Heels: The Art of High-Heeled Shoe exhibit, comprised of over 160 pairs of heels dating as far back as 17th century Europe to present day contemporary designers. Iconic high heel heavyweights such as Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, and Jean Paul Gaultier will be displayed alongside their predecessors, like Elsa Schiaparelli’s wool “heel hat” from the late 1930s as a collaboration with Salvador Dali, or a pair of Italian silk chopines–also known as a fancy term for “clogs.” This exhibit is more than just a peak inside a shoe closet so whimsical it would give even Carrie Bradshaw a heart attack. As curator, Lisa Small elevates (no pun intended) the high heel from fashion accessory to historical artifact and artistic object. Artists and filmmakers such as Nick Knight, Steven Klein, and Zach Gold have contributed videos to accompany the vast collection. Through the exhibit’s six thematic sections, Killer Heels gives its audience a complete overview of the high heel’s origins and its impact on the world.
Eden Herbstman: How did the idea for this exhibition come to life?
Lisa Small: The photographer and filmmaker Zach Gold, who ultimately made one of the short films we commissioned for the exhibition, came to us several years ago with the idea of doing an exhibition of fashion films centered on high heels. Because we were thinking about ways to continue to incorporate the Brooklyn Museum’s costume collection (now housed at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum) in our exhibition programming, the concept evolved beyond films to include actual high heels from several centuries.
EH: What was the curation process like for selecting which heels would become a part of the collection?
LS: For the contemporary heels I knew I wanted to include very well known and emerging designers. I also decided that I wanted to include not just stilettos, but all forms of elevated shoes, including platform and wedge heels. My idea was to select a range of sculptural, playful, dramatic, and innovative designs from roughly within the last ten years, with most being from the past year or so; a challenging task given that there are so many designers and so many striking styles each season. I was also looking at much older high heels and elevated shoes to help convey a sense of the history of high heels over the course of the exhibition.
EH: How did you come up with the exhibit”s six thematic sections, which include Revival and Reinterpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Metamorphosis, and Space Walk.
LS: I knew from the outset that I didn’t want the show organized chronologically or by designer. I thought it would be more interesting to look across those categories to highlight continuity or resemblance, and to connect the designs and their various iterations to broader cultural or historical themes. As I was looking at so many shoes, and beginning to pull together my initial checklists, certain broad unifying concepts, like Metamorphosis or Architecture, for example—began to emerge and I started to group the shoes together accordingly.
EH: Was it difficult tracking down certain designers, or getting specific shoes into the exhibition?
LS: No, all the designers and design houses we approached were happy to participate.
EH: If this exhibit could tell a story, what would you want it to say about the history of high heels?
LS: That the history of heels can be a great lens through which we look at histories of gender, class, trade, and even technology.
EH: Did you personally learn anything new about heels through this curation process?
LS: I was fascinated to learn that towering platform sandals have been trending for over two thousand years. The goddess Aphrodite is shown wearing them in ancient Greek structures!
Lisa Small has been the Curator of Exhibitions for the Brooklyn Museum since 2011. The exhibit will be on display from September 10th 2014 through February 15, 2014.
Written by Eden Herbstman
Photography Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
Design by Francesca Rimi
Photography Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum