Shoe Fetish

Denise Birkhofer
Mar 6, 2013 10:25pm
A go-to subject for many artists throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, shoes have played multiple roles in art: they represent the development of fashion trends, function as coveted status symbols or as the objects of projected psychological desires, and stand in for their wearers due to their close association with the human body. In the works of Andy Warhol, for example, shoes are presented as the fashion commodity par excellence, dating back to the artist’s early forays into commercial design. Warhol’s diamond-dusted piles of shoes are given a place of honor among the myriad divas and icons in his Pop universe. Salvador Dalí was similarly obsessed with the symbolic power of the shoe, as exemplified by his assemblage Surrealist object that functions symbolically—Gala’s Shoe which included the ultimate fetish object: one of his wife’s red, high-heeled pumps. Dalí's intention was that a sugar cube be dissolved in a glass of warm milk placed inside the shoe, which he envisioned as an enactment of the Freudian desire to return to the womb of the mother, represented by the milk. In Rapture, by contrast, Willie Cole completely de-fetishizes the red pump by converting its repeated silhouette into an abstract, all-over pattern reminiscent of African textile traditions. The abstraction of the shoe’s image is also achieved in the photograph Flirt, Liebe by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, depicting an improvised sculpture formed by joining five orphaned, pointy-toed shoes into a star-shaped entity which seems on the verge of propelling itself forward. The series of Atrabiliarios by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo introduces a poignantly human element to the choice of discarded shoes as material by utilizing actual shoes once belonging to victims of political violence, which are symbolically interred in wall niches in the place of their disappeared owners.