The Rise of Sneaker Culture

Dec. 3, 2015—Feb. 28, 2016

Levis Gallery

The Rise of Sneaker Culture explores the athletic shoe from its origins in the mid-1800s to its current place in high-fashion. This traveling exhibition, organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, is the first exhibition in the United States to present a comprehensive survey of the sneaker’s complex design, history, and immense cultural significance. The Toledo Museum of Art is the only Ohio venue for this show, which comes to Toledo from the Brooklyn Museum (July 10-Oct. 4, 2015) and then travels to the High Museum of Art (June 12-Aug. 14, 2016) followed by the Speed Art Museum (Sept. 10-Nov. 27, 2016). Free admission

Sneakers are worn by millions of people worldwide and seem to transcend gender, age, and social and economic position. Yet the broad category of “sneaker” contains a minefield of meaning, full of cultural significance. Although sneakers might appear to be democratic, not all are created equal, as the rise of sneaker culture demonstrates.

How have some sneakers come to be valued more highly than others? How have sneakers expressed both privilege and inclusion? How were specialized sports shoes transformed into staples of street fashion and,in turn, accessories central to expressions of masculinity? How is it that at a single glance, a pair of sneakers can reveal nuanced social information?

The answers to these questions—embedded in the long history of sneaker culture—are intertwined with compelling stories about continuity and change, the relentless pursuit of the new and the innovative, and the shifting politics of inclusion and exclusion.