At PEM, the Pleasure and Pain of Shoes

People / Places / August 24, 2016

There are the form-pressed “Nova” shoes designed by Zaha Hadid, with unsupported, six-and-two-tenths-of-an-inch heels.

The Chinese lotus shoes, designed for bound feet.

The now-infamous Vivienne Westwood blue platforms worn by Naomi Campbell during her runway fall in 1993.

And others worn by David Beckham, Elton John, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – and even Queen Victoria.

All in all, more than 300 pairs of shoes are scheduled to appear in the Peabody Essex Museum’s (PEM) exhibition of “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain,” beginning November 19.

“It’s a perspective to get at the extremes of our relationships with shoes: the pleasure from wearing them and expressing ourselves – and the pain: why aren’t they comfortable, and what are they doing to our feet?” says Lynda Hartigan, deputy director at PEM. “It’s about how our body, psyche and emotions interact with the concept of shoes.”

Two hundred pairs came from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as part of a traveling exhibition, with PEM the first stop. The Salem, Mass.-based museum added another 100 pairs from its shoe collection, the largest  in the nation.

“New England has an incredible history of the shoe industry, with shoes made for the Centennial Exposition in 1876 and the Colombian Exposition from 1893,” she says. “We also worked with two private collectors in New England who have meaningful collections of shoes.”

Seventy percent of those on display are for women; the balance are for men – with one sparkling example. “There’s an incredible pair of golf shoes that are bejeweled – a  contemporary product that’s quite something,” she says. “They’d stand out on a golf course, but why would you wear them on the golf course?”

To handicap the competition, perhaps?

For more, go here.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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