Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks
Nike, Nike MAG, 2015. Courtesy of the Department of Nike Archives, American Federation of Arts, and Bata Shoe Museum.

Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks

Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR - To Aug 11

by Joseph Gallivan

This show about running shoes starts slowly, with some history from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, but finds its stride in what really excites people: wacky, stylish, expensive sneakers. The nearly 60 futuristic footwear designs on display blend features from fashion, design, gaming, new media and architecture, with the usual side lecture on sustainability.

When rappers like Ye (Kanye West) can almost bring Adidas to its knees with a crass comment, or when Donald Trump tries to get hip by licensing trainers in grifter gold, you know the relationship between brands and celebrities has gone off the rails. More successful name designers in the show include Rem D. Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid, Mr. Bailey and Salehe Bembury, as well as collabs from Rick Owens, Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto. Shoe companies are much safer collaborating with corporate creatives such as PlayStation and Gravity Sketch.

“[With] shoes that blur the line between the real world and the metaverse, this exhibition explores how forward-looking creators are helping us step into the future,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, director and senior curator, Bata Shoe Museum, the show’s original curator. Anyone confused about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the art world might be even more perplexed by the idea of spending money on 100% digital sneakers, but this show explains the world of artifacts and skins from the world of gaming. Digitally designed and 3-D-printed shoes could be the future, once the materials are better made. The show includes the cult Nike MAG, designed for Back to the Future Part II by Portland’s Tinker Hatfield, “as well as recent innovators MSCHF’s Big Red Boots and EKTO VR’s One Robotic Boots.”

“The show is a love letter to all of the artists, storytellers, designers and visionaries who dare to think differently—many who live and work right here in Portland, the shoe capital of the United States,” said Amy Dotson, curator of film and new media for the Portland Art Museum.

Design panel moderated by Herbert Beauclere May 2, 7–9pm


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