Killer Heels: The Art Of The High-Heeled Shoe Opens At The Currier Museum Of Art

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Exhibition Presents Biggest Names in High Heel Design - Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe comes to the Currier Museum of Art from Saturday, February 6 through Sunday, May 15, 2016.

From structural and splendid to daring and dangerous, high heels have been the subject of conversation and controversy for centuries. Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe comes to the Currier Museum of Art, its exclusive New England venue, from Saturday, February 6 through Sunday, May 15, 2016. More than 300 years of women’s elevated shoes will be on view, featuring both historic and stunning contemporary heels by Prada, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Louboutin, Ferragamo, Manolo Blahnik and more.

“High heels are probably the most talked about fashion accessory,” says Samantha Cataldo, exhibition curator at the Currier. “You can’t help but make a statement wearing them because their structure has a way of affecting the wearer in both a physical and psychological way.”

Once a symbol of aristocratic power for men, high heels became a women’s fashion accessory in the West during the 16th century. Heels signified that the wearer was of the leisure class, but like all cultural objects, their meaning shifted over time. Today, some women consider heels to be a symbol of power and beauty, while others argue that they sexualize or demean the wearer.

About the Exhibition
The show consists of about 150 examples of high heels from the collections of the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Philadelphia Museum of Art and many designers themselves. Two-thirds of the shoes on view in Killer Heels are contemporary. Six films by noted video artists including Marilyn Minter, Ghada Amer & Reza Farkhondeh, Zach Gold, Nick Knight, Steven Klein and Rashaad Newsome are located throughout the exhibition. They offer fascinating modern interpretations of the political and cultural meanings linked to high-heeled shoes. The exhibition is divided into six thematic sections.

Revival and Reinterpretation
In fashion, new styles are inevitably informed by the past. Some high heel shoe designs in the exhibition pay homage to the Renaissance or aristocratic life in 18th century France.

The high-heeled shoe as we know it became fashionable for women about 400 years ago but their popularity reemerged in the 1930s, 1970s and again in the 1990s. While platform shoes date back almost one millennium, one of the style’s strongest resurgences occurred during the disco days of the 1970s, when both men and women wore them.

Rising in the East
Elevated shoes were first seen among Eastern civilizations, including Persia, but in the West, it was the ancient Greeks who were particularly fascinated by them. Greek male actors wore raised-sole boots to give the appearance that their character was powerful.

High-heeled shoes also served very practical purposes. Persian cavalrymen wore heels to help keep their feet in their stirrups while in combat. In the late 16th century, Western soldiers, who were allied with Persia against the Ottoman Empire, followed suit. Other people wore elevated shoes to keep their feet above pooling water in bathhouses or to raise them above the mud in city streets.

Glamour and Fetish
High-heeled shoes inevitably create strong responses from both wearers and viewers. The expression “power heels” is often used to describe shoes that give the wearer a sense of situational domination. With all high heels, sensuality is implicit in their design, but often, so is danger; take, for example, the stiletto heel, which was named after the pointed Italian dagger.

Some high-heeled shoes are embellished with metal studs, jewels and designs that are both foreboding and fantastical. High-heeled, long-legged boots take these shoes one step further by drawing the viewer’s gaze along and up the wearer’s leg.

Metamorphosis
Implicit in the design of high-heeled shoes is the fact that they directly affect the wearer by forcing changes in both posture and gait. Heel designs sometimes emphasize transitional states; looking like mythical hybrid creatures or architectural objects whose shapes are in flux. Maison Martin Margiela’s Glass Slippers (2009) harken to Cinderella, the ultimate children’s story of personal metamorphosis. Iris van Herpen’s Beyond Wilderness (2013) creates the appearance of a tangle of plant roots wrapping around the wearer’s leg.

Architecture
Without a doubt, contemporary high heels are informed by both sculpture and architecture. Designers must consider both the artistic appearance of the shoe and its structural qualities, so the wearer can avoid toppling over and to minimize excessive physical strain on the body. It wasn’t until the 1950s that extruded metal rods were embedded in heels to increase strength enough to create the tall, thin skyscraper stiletto. Some heel styles pay homage to familiar architectural forms such as the Eiffel Tower or the crown of New York City’s Chrysler Building.

Space Walk
Emerging technologies had a direct effect on the art and architecture of the 20th century. Space Age materials allowed designers to expand the visual vocabulary of high-heeled shoes, making stronger shoes with more dynamic shapes that were often sleek, streamlined and futuristic. This has been especially true of heel design since the advent of 3-D printing, which has taken the high-heeled shoe to new levels of creativity and abstractness.

Exhibition Support
Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe is organized by the Brooklyn Museum. The Currier's presentation of the exhibition and the related educational programs are sponsored by: Barbara B. Putnam, Dwight & Susi Churchill, Hitchiner Manufacturing Company, The Duprey Companies, TD Bank and People’s United Bank.

For more information, visit http://www.currier.org or call 603.669.6144, x108.

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JH Simoes