Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture

image via:  Brooklyn Museum

You'll ogle at the original Air Force 1, the collection of Air Jordans I-XX3, the Louis Vuitton/Kanye West collaboration, and a Reebok prototype of the very first pump shoe. But no, you may not touch the precious kicks held behind glass at Brooklyn Museum.

The freshly opened exhibition, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture, is the first exploration of the sneaker's social evolution as a status symbol, curated with 150 irresistible pairs by Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum and the American Federation of Arts. Hardly considered high-brow, the value assigned to some of these numbers suggest the contrary, sometimes fetching upwards of $15,000 for the original Air Jordan 1 alone, which might as well be priceless.

image via: Keith Flanagan for SWAGGER

But whether you’re a Puma Clyde aficionado or an adidas Superstar illuminati, the most surprising pairs in the show might not bear your favorite label at all."

It's hard to surprise a New Yorker," said the senior curator of the exhibition, Elizabeth Semmelhack. "But I hope that they are blown away by the early pieces. You get to see the Keds Champion from 1916 and the Converse All-Star from 1917, pre-vulcanized rubber overshoes from the Brazilian jungles -- some of the historic pieces that you would never have the chance to physically see.”

image via Keith Flanagan for SWAGGER 

Sneakers first became cultural icons via NYC’s basketball courts, but you’ll learn that they were really born by way of South America’s “weeping wood” tree, from which rubber is harvested, first showing up as waterproof overshoes in the 1820s.

While the world’s best collection of sneakers is certainly at Brooklyn Museum at the moment, there’s one elusive pair that Semmelhack just couldn’t find: “I still need an Air Max 90 Infrared, original, of course,” she said. “Nike only made one, and it’s just so rare!”

What will she feel like when she finally snags a pair? I imagine it’ll feel something like -swoosh.

Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture debuts at Brooklyn Museum on July 10, and continues on view through October 4, 2015.  
Suggested donation $16; 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY, 11238.


Sep 11, 2015


Keith Flanagan