Ever look at a sneaker and think you were experiencing fine art? As it turns out, many culture aficionados were doing just that during the premier of a new kind of art exhibit: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.
As of October 4th, The Rise of Sneaker Culture has ended its three month run at the Brooklyn Museum. It will be opening its doors to a brand new audience in December at the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, OH.
The Rise of Sneaker Culture is as much an expose of gloriously designed shoes as it is a celebration of sneakers in pop culture. From designs that predate World War II to Kanye West’s Air Yeezys, the exhibit is an eclectic mixture of old and new alike. Because the show’s curators knew they wouldn’t have the space to tell the complete history of sneakers, they instead focused on highlighting the most iconic sneaker styles that have become cornerstones of American culture.
Among the most popular set pieces of the show are the first generation Nike Air Jordans, dating back to the mid 1980s. Considered one of the pivotal moments in sneaker history, Air Jordans became the center of media buzz when Michael Jordan went against NBA regulations and played in professional games wearing the shoes. Because of stern rules regarding shoe color, Michael Jordan was fined $5000 for every game he played while sporting his new sneakers. The fines wound up backfiring against the NBA when the controversy caused the popularity of Air Jordans to skyrocket, with Nike happily covering all expenses in stride. The design of Air Jordans would eventually change, but the brand became forever cemented in American pop culture.
Each generation of Air Jordans is chronicled by The Rise of Sneaker Culture, with more than 20 different designs spanning over 20 years. Air Jordans remain highly collectible to this day, with iterations of the shoe running for hundreds of dollars on storefronts and marketplaces.
The exhibit also highlights how the sneaker industry became a progressive force throughout history. Run DMC’s “My Adidas” is a steady motif in The Rise of Sneaker Culture, featuring both the hit song and the band’s signature sneakers: Superstars. Run DMC made history by signing their Superstar contract with Adidas during the 1980s, as sneaker deals to that point had been received exclusively by athletes. Not only did Run DMC’s deal break boundaries within the sneaker industry, they also paved the way for sneaker creators to connect with and market to urban demographics. To this day, hip-hop and urban culture are both tied intricately with sneakers, and the Superstar sneakers are a perfect representation of this fusion.
The extensive collection showcased in The Rise of Sneaker Culture will continue traveling across the country throughout 2016, with stops planned at both Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY. With collectible sneakers continuing to grow in popularity, The Rise of Sneaker Culture is a bold sign of how far the industry has grown. With everything from sponsored shoes to vintage relics on display, there’s no telling what style or design could become iconic decades later. If there’s one lesson to be taken away from the exhibit, it’s that anything old can certainly become new again.
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