Art historian specializing in 19th Century Painting and Sculpture, shoe lover (not collector), Lisa Small is Curator of Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum. Her first foray into fashion was the 2013 multi-media exhibition, Welcome to the Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier. September 10th marks her return with an exhibition that explores one of the most provocative and iconic objects of desire: Killer Heels, The Art of the High Heeled Shoe.
What does your position as Curator of Exhibitions entail and how did you come to work on Killer Heels?
The Curator of Exhibitions division often organizes independent loan exhibitions or act as coordinating exhibitors for a range of disciplines. My first foray into fashion was the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, which we organized with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
How did you come up with the idea for Killer Heels, The Art of the High Heeled Shoe?
Killer Heels germinated from an idea brought to us by Zach Gold, who proposed creating an exhibit surrounding the genres of fashion and film. The Brooklyn Museum has long history of costume exhibitions and the high heel shoe is so iconic that the dialogue evolved into the Killer Heels concept.
What is time span does the exhibition cover?
The exhibition offers a wonderful selection of high heels from 16th Century to present day. To create juxtaposition and dialogue, we’ve included 25 or so objects from permanent collections of painting, and furniture. Plus, six amazing short films by artists and photographers.
How did you approach the shoe selection?
While this is an exhibition about fashion, I am not a fashion person, rather an Art Historian specializing in 19th Century European Painting and Sculpture. I selected shoes not because they had a fashion world following per se, but designs that I found interesting and impactful. Each design had something about it that seemed to make a point.
What are some of the highlights?
I am psyched that one of the objects we have in collection is the Schiaparelli shoe that she created with Salvador Dalí.
What goes into creating an exhibition?
Requesting loans is key to an encompassing exhibit such as this. The MET where we recently transferred our permanent fashion collection was a key resource as was the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, which has an encyclopedic collection of footwear. We also have shoe loans from 50 different designers and fashion houses. They were all wonderfully accommodating.
Why do you think so many people have shoe fetishes?
From the early 18th century, the high heel has been an object of desire and symbol of the female form fraught with meaning. In almost any culture it is associated with status, privilege and luxury. The high heel has so much currency on so many different levels — it’s the perfect storm of sexuality.
How did you select the artists to create the films that are part of the exhibit?
We were hoping for a range of points of view that would represent what the exhibition straddles. For example, Steven Klein is closely aligned with the fashion world while Rashaad Newsome is from the art world with the concerns of his work being relative to fashion. We were very interested in working with Marilyn Minter, an established artist renowned for investigating the glamour and grotesque.
Were the artists given instructions for their videos?
No instructions at all other than to make a short film that takes the high heel as your conceptual thematic starting point. It was very exciting to see everything emerge and to crystallize this notion of eye candy and history on film.
Why do you think the fashion blockbuster exhibition has come to be?
It’s a combination of a lot of factors. In general, fashion and fashion designers have an increasingly high profile in culture along with celebrity culture. Museums use art and artifacts to interpret history, which is what fashion speaks to historically and culturally. Museums want to capture the public’s interest and get bodies in the door for their permanent collections. Interesting shows pose questions and invite people to see fashion in a different way. So, if they come to Killer Heels, it’s win-win.
What has been your most surprising discovery about the fashion world?
Everybody in the fashion world has been extremely generous and interested in what we do here. I admire how fashion designers work so quickly. Their creative process is so awe inspiring and they work with such fertile imaginations.
Do you wear high heels?
I do. Completely legitimate question. I joke that if I had organized an Impressionist show, how many people would ask if I have Monets hanging in my home?