‘Killer Heels’ exhibit in prep stage for opening at Frick Art & Historical Center
Each shoe or boot is carefully removed from a wooden crate by workers wearing green nitrile gloves.
The footwear is part of the collection being prepared for “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe,” which runs June 11 through Sept. 4 at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze.
“They are smaller than I thought they would be,” says museum director Robin Nicholson, pointing to a pair of the Zaha Hadid X United Nude shoes. “These are one of my favorites. Some of these pieces were designed to be cutting edge and not designed to be worn. The whole collection is so exciting.”
From 18th-century silk slippers to the glamorous stilettos on today’s runways and red carpets, the exhibition looks at the high-heeled shoe’s rich and varied history and its enduring place in our imagination.
Included among the many artists, designers and fashion houses represented in “Killer Heels” are Balenciaga, Manolo Blahnik, Chanel, Christian Dior, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Jean Paul Gaultier, Zaha Hadid, Iris van Herpen, Christian Louboutin, Alexander McQueen, Prada and Roger Vivier.
The footwear arrived in 16 crates last week. The highest heel is 9 inches — from Lady Gaga. Some shoes will be displayed in pairs, others singular.
Couriers from the lending institutions have been monitoring the opening of the packages for the past week. They file a condition report and note anything unusual or special care that may be needed.
Pittsburgh is the final stop on this limited tour, which included Brooklyn, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Palm Springs, Calif.; and Manchester, N.H.
“Killer Heels” explores the accessory through a selection of nearly 150 historic and contemporary heels on loan from designers, the renowned Brooklyn Museum costume collection housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto and others.
The exhibition is coming together nicely, says Naomi Brown, Brooklyn Museum courier.
“These shelves give an interesting view of the shoes,” says Brown, as she surveys the shoes being placed in displays. “It’s like putting together a theater production with everyone doing a job to create the final look.”
Lisa Small, curator of exhibitions for the Brooklyn Museum and this traveling show, says she hopes the exhibit creates a lot of interest. Fashion exhibitions have become popular, Small says.
“We want to connect with a wide array of people and hope to attract not just female and male shoe lovers, but (also) the people they might drag to this exhibit,” Small says. “An exhibition like this requires a lot of setup, and there is a lot that goes into it. The behind-the-scenes people are the unsung heroes.”
“Killer Heels” is going to be one of the summer’s major cultural events in Pittsburgh, Nicholson predicts. He wanted to attract new guests to the museum and says exhibits such as “Killer Heels” are a way to bring in a new audience — those who appreciate fashion as art.
“It’s a way to reach out to a younger audience,” says Sarah Hall, director of curatorial affairs at The Frick Pittsburgh. “There is a public appetite for fashion. There is glamour in fashion. This exhibit reflects the history of fashion, and there are some great design elements in this footwear. … We expect it to be blockbuster quality. There is a buzz out there about it.”
“Killer Heels” is a wonderful exhibit for the Frick and a wonderful exhibit for Pittsburgh,” says Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh.
“In so many of the national ‘Top 10′ rankings where Pittsburgh is named, our arts and culture scene is almost always mentioned as a key factor,” Davis says. “Exhibits like ‘Killer Heels’ put Pittsburgh in the spotlight and help our stature as a top city for the arts.”
The exhibition is not just an excuse for a glamorous fashion show, Nicholson says. It offers an intelligent and curated exploration of an enduring icon and motif of costume throughout the centuries.
The show has six broad thematic sections:
Revival and Reinterpretation: Designers look to the styles and visual arts of the past for inspiration. Earlier styles are often revisited, reinterpreted and made new for a new generation.
Rising in the East: Elevated shoes and their relationship to status and beauty can be traced to the influence of Eastern civilizations.
Glamour and Fetish: Early definitions of glamour relate to the casting of magic spells so dazzling that victims could not see clearly. These qualities of illusion and even danger conjure the seductive power of the stiletto.
Architecture: Shoe design and architecture share similar concerns — enclosure, protection, structure, silhouettes and a balance of material form and function.
Metamorphosis: The glass slippers in Walt Disney’s 1950 “Cinderella” featured a high heel, a cultural reinforcement of the idea that high heels are enchanting, transformative objects.
Spacewalk: The growing popularity of higher heels in the early 20th century coincided with the introduction of rockets, nylon, aerosol cans and other harbingers of the jet and space ages.
More fashion-focused shows can be expected at the Frick. The Richard King Mellon Foundation recently awarded the museum a $1 million grant to support a three-year series. Following “Killer Heels,” the museum will present “Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion” in fall 2017, featuring highlights from the extensive collection of underwear at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
“Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave,” coming in fall 2018, features the paper costume creations of the contemporary French artist whose works are masterpieces of trompe l’oeil.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7889 or [email protected].