Move over, stilettos, there’s a new kid on the block. From your gallerist to your handler’s sister’s babysitter, the entire art world (and the regular world, for that matter) is bouncin’ around in minimalist white sneakers.
Gone are the days of teetering through Frieze like a heavily made-up giraffe—thanks to feminism and the androgynous fashion movement, now you can track down wayward artists (and clients) three times faster and sans blisters. Big win.
Some have even said that the sneaker movement is so huge that it qualifies as modern art. Whatever you think, there’s no denying that when sneakers and contemporary art collide, sparks fly.
From sneaker collabs to sneaker-inspired contemporary art to hilarious IG content, let’s take a tour through the best art world sneaker moments.
1) Phillips’ tongue + chic
This year, the New York auction house commissioned a series of of artist sneaker collaborations (peep the highlights here). Oh, and the proceeds go to Thomas Reuters Foundation to fight modern-day slavery.
By Jim Lasser
By Ava Niuri and Alex Lee
2) Marina Abramović, Shoes for Departure (1990-91)
To be fair, these aren’t exactly sneakers, but in Abramovićs world, this is as close as we’re gonna get. Don’t worry, she doesn’t expect you to walk down the street in these—just out of your ordinary state of consciousness.
“I have instructions for the public to take off your shoes and, with naked feet, put on the two crystal shoes, close your eyes, don’t move, and make your departure. I’m talking about a mental, not physical, departure. So the public can enter certain states of mind helped by the material itself. Material is very important for me. I use crystals, human hair, copper, iron. The materials already have a certain energy,” she explained in an interview.
Thanks for clearing that up! Makes perfect sense now.
3) Sneakers x existential musings by @bellxyn
4) Clarissa Tossin, Ladrão de Tênis [Sneaker Thief] (2009)
In Brazil, “Ladrão de Tênis” started trending in the media after a series of murders over nothing more than people’s sneakers. Scary. It made Tossin take a long, hard look at “the complexities of class conflict and the exploitation of desire in capitalist developing economies.”
5) Zaha Hadid x Lacoste
Award-winning London architect Zaha Hadid designed this space-age shoe for Lacoste. Calling it a sneaker might be a teensy bit of a stretch, but it premiered at Frieze London in 2011, so you know it’s art.
7) ABCDEFGUCCI campaign shot by Petra Collins
Never thought I’d see “Gucci” and “DIY” in the same sentence, but here we are. The thotty Gucci sneakers got a makeover, so you can “daydream to be a rockstar” in personalized $700 sneakers, instead of plain old boring $500 sneakers. But the campaign photography looks cool!
8) KAWS x Vans
Sneakers and street art go together like matcha and almond milk (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go educate yourself ASAP). The famous New York-based street artist designed this “The Simpsons” shoe for a 2007 Vans artist collaboration series. In our humble opinion, it’s the best of the bunch.
9) Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada
Red Chopine, Italy, 16th century. Yes, this used to go on some very rich Italian ladies’ feet.
Ever wanted to look at more than 1000 shoes in a day and didn’t know where to go? Worry no more—BSM’s (not to be confused with BDSM) got you. From Chinese foot-binding shoes to clogs for crushing chestnuts (or the nuts of fuckboys), it’s all here.
10) That time Jenny Holzer designed Keds
As part of their collab with the Whitney Museum, Keds commissioned Jenny Holzer to design some sneakers. True to her signature anti-establishment word art pieces, the sneakers read “Protect me from what I want.” Unless, presumably, what I want is arty Keds.
11) Myles Thompson’s glorified sneakers + glorified paintings
Instead of making art inspired by sneakers, this artist designed sneakers inspired by classical art. Sadly, none of them exist irl… yet!
12) Whatever this is
IG is really a magical place full of mysteries. Our research brought us to this extra-long Nike Air Force 1, and it was too good to not include. A secret source whispered it is by Steven and Billy Dufala
13) @jynwaye’s super rad painted Air Force 1s
This US artist started out painting cartoon and anime faves like Sailor Moon and Spirited Away on skate decks and guitars. When her friend gave her a pair of Nikes that weren’t her size, she thought she’d paint them and sell them for a quick buck. Her IG exploded with bids and commissions—and it’s not hard to see why.
Don’t get too excited—she’s not taking any more commissions (but maybe a few flattering dm’s could change her mind…).
A fun little game you can play with all your sneakerhead friends, courtesy of artist No Sply. Unclear if it exists IRL but maybe someone can DIY and send us a copy? Thanks.
15) David Humphrey, Changing Sneakers (2011)
16) Laro Lagosta’s LOL-worthy sneaker content
17) William Sweetlove, Cloned Alligator with sneakers (2013)
At first glance, you might expect to find Sweetlove’s sculptures tucked away in some little nook in your neighborhood psychedelic independent coffee shop.
But actually, his Dada/Pop Art animals are meant to raise awareness about climate change. They’re not wearing sneakers just because they’re comfy—they’re wearing sneakers to get ready for rising sea levels.
Just when you thought you were starting to “get” contemporary art.
18) Katherine Bernhardt, Adidas Sneakers (My Adidas, LL Cool J.) (2006)
This painting could be a typical #girlgaze IG post… but the girl is melting. All we really know about her is that she has Adidas sneakers, making her either trendy or basic, depending on how you look at it. Could it be that new shoes aren’t the answers to all our heart’s desires?
Photos via Phillips, Stedelijk, @bellxyn, Clarissa Tossin, Zaha Hadid, @microdudes, Gucci, Hypebeast, Bata Shoe Museum, Racked, Myles Thompson Creative, @sneaker.art, @jynwaye, Artsy, @larolagosta, 1st Dibs.