The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibition Art Gallery WA


I’m not big on fashion exhibitions, I have however been working in consumer psychology and studying trends for waaaay to long. No surprise then that I started salivating when I read about the Art Gallery of WA’s upcoming exhibition. What is it about the sneaker that has seen them rise from the humble white Dunlop Volley to become treasured possessions and consumer touchstones? The Rise of Sneaker Culture investigates this question across five sections. It includes a brilliant competition (hint #mysneakerstory). Plus AGWA is the only Australian gallery to get the exhibition and it’s FREE!

Pierre Hardy Poworama, 2011 Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum , gift of Pierre Hardy Photo: Ron Wood Courtesy American Federation of Arts /Bata Shoe Museum

Contrary to every generation of teenagers, sneakers originated in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Rise of Sneaker Culture investigates …

Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik Modell Waitzer, 1936 adidas AG Photo: adidas AG / studio waldeck Courtesy American Federation of Arts

  • Rubber Revolution (1830s to 1920s). The birth of the sneaker through the industrial development—the creation of vulcanized rubber—and the rise of sports culture. Included is the 1860’s spiked running shoe.
  • The Body Politic: Sneakers, Statehood, and Sporting (1920s to 1960s). The development of specialised sport shoes, the democratization of the sneaker and the pursuit of  the perfect body.
  • Sports, Stars and Status Sneakers: Fashioning Fitness in the Twentieth Century (1970-80’s). The intersection of celebrity and footwear, the growth of fitness culture and the status sneaker.
  • Fresh Out the Box: Sneaker Culture and Shifting Masculinities (1980 to present). The synergy between hip-hop, basketball, and sneakers, that has transformed sneakers into
  •  Innovation and Design. Iconic sneakers created by some of today’s most forward-thinking designers, such as Eric Avar, D’Wayne Edwards, Tinker Hatfield, Tobie Hatfield, Steven Smith, and collaborations with Rihanna, Kanye West, Sophia Chang, Tom Sachs, Damien Hirst, Prada, and Lanvin.

Also on show are an original 1923 Converse All Star/Non Skid, a pair of 1936 track shoes, the original Air Force 1, and early Adidas Superstars, a complete presentation of Air Jordans I–XX3 on loan from the Kosow Sneaker Museum.

Private collection items have also been included, from such as legendary hip-hop group Run-DMC, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia (Kool Bob Love) and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder.

Nike Stewie Griffin Lebron VI, 2009 Collection of Chad Jones Courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum

The exhibition began at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto and organised by the American Federation of Arts, the international travelling exhibition has had popular showings in Toronto, Brooklyn, Atlanta and Oakland, and now heads to AGWA.

This exhibition focuses on the compelling history of the sneaker from its origins in the 19th century as a luxury form of footwear to its current centrality in fashion,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum. “We are thrilled that The Rise of Sneaker Culture will be shown at AGWA and hope that the exhibition’s focus on how technological innovation, politics and cultural identity have helped to shape the importance of sneakers today will be of interest to visitors of all ages.”

Fleet Foot Dominion Rubber Company Fleet Foot, ca. 1925 Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum Photo: Hal Roth Courtesy American Federation of Arts /Bata Shoe Museum

Also included is film footage, interactive media, photographic images, and design drawings contextualise the sneakers and explore the social history, technical innovations, fashion trends, and marketing campaigns that have shaped sneaker culture over the past two centuries.
Coordinating Curator, Robert Cook, AGWA Curator of Contemporary Design and International Art said,

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture is a huge and unprecedented opportunity for all Australian sneaker collectors and fans to track the history and development of their favourite wearable art form. It will locate their passion in the combined history of creativity and technological development out of which the never-humble sneaker continues to be reborn.”

Nike x Tom Sachs Whites (Original), 2008 – 12 Collection of the artist Courtesy American Federation of Arts

In conjunction with the exhibition, the American Federation of Arts partnered with Skira Rizzoli to create an extensive exhibition catalogue that includes an in-depth look at the history of sneaker culture, interviews, personal stories, and insights from 24 influential contributors about how sneakers defined their image. $70

10am-5pm, Saturday 13 May
An open house event celebrating the first day of The Rise of Sneaker Culture, including music from WA DJs and local bands, sneaker swap, skateboarding and urban dance, sneaker tours, basketball and much more. AGWA’s sneakerlier will be revealed, plus WA collector, Lee Ingram, and AGWA Curator, Robert Cook, will be in the Gallery for insights into the exhibition and sneaker culture across the world.

All Star Non Skid Converse Converse Rubber Shoe Company All Star/Non Skid, 19 23 Converse Archives Courtesy American Federation of Arts

2-3pm, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
Just for kicks, join one of AGWA’s Guru Guides for a short introduction to the world of sneakers.

Thanks to Singapore Airlines, you could win a trip for two to San Francisco, simply by sharing your favourite sneaker story via Instagram. It could be the pair that saw you travel around the world. Fashion kicks that scored cred with your crew. Or maybe the ones you were wearing when you took 3 for 6 at cricket. Sport, street, fashion, travel or work … if it’s your story, AGWA wants to hear it. To enter, simply submit a short video with #mysneakerstory.
The competition runs 10am, 5 April 2017 through to 5pm, 4 September 2017 (AWT).

As I read about everything happening at this exhibition I pondered …

  1. At first I was tempted by seeing the original running shoe, but then I looked through the rest of the catalogue and … wow sneaker overload. Where to start ?!!!
  2. Don’t worry if you’re not into sneakers, I’m sure the designs alone will spark some ideas of your own.
  3. I’m so pleased it’s on for a couple of months as I know I will go more than once
  4. How lucky are we in Perth to get this exhibition?
  5. Many, many thanks to AGWA for putting it on free of charge!
  6. The question remains, which comfy sneakers to wear, there’s going to be a lot to see.

The exhibition opens Saturday 13 May closes 4  September FREE
Sneaker Saturday – 10am-4pm, Saturday 13 May | FREE

For more information go to Art Gallery of WA




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