THE irony of Art Gallery of WA presenting the only Australian display of Toronto exhibition The Rise of Sneaker Culture has not been lost on AGWA contemporary design and international art curator Robert Cook.
“While growing up in Perth, this was the place you could get no sneakers,” Cook said.
“You were limited to Big W or Kmart and would get your Runner’s World magazine and see everything that was happening in America that was amazing and all you could do was pine for it.”
The touring exhibition, which has been in Brooklyn, Atlanta and Oakland, examines the development of the thing we now know as sneakers, from prototypes that look more like a dress shoe while designers figured out what a sneaker’s purpose was, to the kicks of today.
“We’ve been doing creative programming called Culture Juice, basically wanting to connect with a different audience group or demographic,” Cook said.
“Sneakers are the democratic medium of the 20th century. We all have them and they’re somebody else’s artistic expression but we turn them into our own.”
Cook enlisted the help of Curtin University graphic design lecturer Lee Ingram as his “sneakerhead-in-residence” for the exhibition season.
Ingram is a collector of more than 800 pairs of sneakers and worked with Asics on the 25th anniversary of its signature Gel-Lyte III shoe.
A sample of Ingram’s collection is on display in a WA Collectors exhibition on the ground floor of the AGWA before the main exhibition on the first floor.
“What I like about shoes is that it’s a collection you can display on a daily basis,” Ingram said.
“I spent many hours curating what it was that I wanted to show; choosing footwear with stories behind them, whether they were embedded narratives from the release or whether it was a personal story for me.
“A lot of the stuff in this exhibition is about nostalgia, so most of the shoes I’ve chosen have a special place in my heart.”
Ingram, who possibly enjoys the hunt for a rare pair of sneakers more than the ownership, lived on the streets of Fremantle from the age of 14 before studying graphic design at Curtin University in 1994.
“When I first started studying design, we had to design a chair and from that moment forth I never looked at a chair again without considering all the thought that went behind it and all the stories that got told around it,” he said.
“That’s a similar thing with this exhibition because for a lot of people shoes are just shoes; they don’t consider how much thought has gone into the development, from the choice of materials and colours to the technological advancements in the design.”
What: The Rise of Sneaker Culture
Where: Art Gallery of WA
When: until September 4