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High Museum of Art presents first museum exhibition in the U.S. exploring sneaker culture
Nike x Tom Sachs, NikeCraft Lunar Underboot Aeroply Experimentation Research Boot. Prototype, 2008-12. Collection of the artist. Courtesy American Federation of Arts.


ATLANTA, GA.- The High Museum of Art presents “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” (June 11 through Aug. 14, 2016), the first museum exhibition in the United States to examine the complex and fascinating social history and design evolution of the sneaker, from its origins in the mid-19th century to its role in the present day as a symbol of urban culture and marker of masculine identity.

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture” features more than 150 sneakers, including iconic and incredibly rare shoes from the 1830s to today, some of which have never been publicly exhibited. Originating at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the touring exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) in collaboration with the Bata Shoe Museum (BSM) and is curated by Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of BSM.

“What we choose to wear and the impact of those choices are powerful components of design,” said Sarah Schleuning, curator of decorative arts and design and managing curator of “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” at the High. “The exhibition is an in-depth exploration of the creativity and diversity of design within the singular typology of sneakers as well as the social significance of their evolution. The sneaker is a ubiquitous object that through this exhibition can be experienced and appreciated in a new way.”

The featured sneakers are drawn from the archives of manufacturers such as Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma and Reebok; the collections of the Bata Shoe Museum, Kosow Sneaker Museum and Northampton Museums and Art Gallery; and private collectors such as hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia, and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder. Highlights include an 1860s spiked running shoe, an original 1923 Converse All Star/Non Skid, a 1936 track shoe similar to those worn by Olympian Jesse Owens, an original Nike Air Force 1 and early Adidas Superstars. Also featured are sneakers by Prada and other major fashion design houses as well as contemporary sneaker collaborations with prominent figures such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Staple and Kanye West. Significant works from the archives of Nike include sneakers spanning the career of design legend Tinker Hatfield and a complete presentation of Air Jordans I–XX3, which highlights the role this coveted series of shoes has played in the rise of contemporary sneaker culture.

The shoe selections are richly contextualized with film footage, interactive media, photographs and design drawings, creating a narrative of the social history, technical innovation, fashion trends and marketing campaigns that have shaped the sneaker over the past two centuries.

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture” is organized into six major sections. The first section features a selection of shoes highlighting the past and future of sneaker design, including the Nike Air Trainer 1, the Reebok Pump prototype, and the GE x Android Homme “The Missions” Moon Boot. The second section examines how technological advances, such as the development of vulcanized rubber, and cultural shifts during the Industrial Revolution led to the establishment of the sneaker as footwear for the elite leisure class. In its third section, spanning the 1920s to the early 1970s, the exhibition explores the design innovations of specialized athletic shoes and the commercialization of the sneaker as a symbol of the nationalistic pursuit of physical perfection.

The fitness craze of the 1970s and ’80s elevated the sneaker to a symbol of social status and a signifier of conspicuous consumption. The fourth section of the exhibition traces the creativity and inventiveness that shifted the sneaker from the gym to the street, where high-end designs became fashion-forward dress. The fifth and sixth sections focus on how sneakers became vanguards of today’s urban culture, transforming into treasured personal possessions and collector’s items through links to fashion design, music and professional sports.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the AFA in partnership with the Bata Shoe Museum and Skira Rizzoli. The catalogue features an in-depth look at the history of sneaker culture by exhibition curator Elizabeth Semmelhack as well as interviews, personal stories and insights from 24 influential contributors, including former Jordan Brand Footwear Design Director D’Wayne Edwards, NBA champion Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Beastie Boys member Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, U.S. Open tennis champion Stan Smith, creative designer Sophia Chang, fashion designer Jeremy Scott, “Details” magazine Style Director Eugene Tong, footwear designer Christian Louboutin, founding creative director of Def Jam Records Cey Adams and contemporary artist Tom Sachs.





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