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A Step Beyond: Contemporary Footwear, Functional to Fanciful opens February 8 at the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College 

Guest curated by Jo Lauria, the exhibit features luxury, one-of-a-kind creations, mass-produced shoes, and such covetable collectibles as the Nike Air Jordan Retro 1

Shoes by Amara Hark WeberContemporary footwear intersects gender and fashion in continually new and creative ways. In design and fabrication, both functional and fanciful footwear emerge from a collaborative process of creativity and craftsmanship. This process is focused on manipulating the four defining elements of footwear: the upper (entire part of the shoe that covers the foot), the insole, the outer-sole, and the heel. These essential components are shaped by the fashion and taste of the era. Therefore, footwear reflects the culture and period in which it is created and illustrates the imagination, innovation, and artistry of its time.

A Step Beyond: Contemporary Footwear, Functional to Fanciful focuses on contemporary footwear from a variety of perspectives, including custom shoes designed and handcrafted for a private client; luxury, limited-edition creations made for a privileged clientele; and shoes mass-produced for the consumer market. This selection of shoes and boots showcases designers who successfully merge functionality with freedom of expression. 

In the exhibition, which opens at the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design and runs Feb. 8 through April 25th, 2020, are examples of the designs and actual footwear from various sectors of the shoemaking profession, including:

  • Exquisitely handcrafted custom shoes and boots by makers Amara Hark-Weber of Hark-Weber Studio, Lisa Sorrell of Sorrell Custom Boots, and Wes Shugart of Music City Leather.
  • A 30-year selection of intricately designed shoes by Paul Kaufman that are produced in small factory settings.
  • A grouping of shoes from the limited-edition collection of UNITED NUDE resulting from the collaboration of co-founder Rem Koolhaas and global architects and designers. An additional feature will be a series illustrating the evolution of Koolhaas’ Möbius Shoe, from prototype to present.
  • A selection of the latest sneaker releases in the marketplace provided by sneaker collector extraordinaire, Twin Daniel, including the coveted Nike Air Jordan Retro 1 sneakers, among other popular styles.
  • One-of-a-kind artist-created shoes—some sculptural, some wearable—by Norwegian artist Elisabeth Thorsen, and the late Gaza Bowen, the originator of “narrative” footwear that combined humor, unusual materials, invention, and attitude.
  • Additional shoe collections that narrate the story of fashion trends and provide an overview of the iconic styles that made their imprint on 20th- and 21st-century design are included, as assembled by collectors Pamela Weir-Quiton, Lucinda Smith, and Melissa Leventon, a costume and textile curator and historian. 

Illustration by Joshua WongTo enhance the viewer’s understanding of shoes as more than purely utilitarian elements of dress, the exhibition includes shoe and fashion illustrators Gregory Weir-Quiton and Joshua Wong. And moving further beyond the shoe as literal object, a section features the paintings and sculptures of Alex Becerra, Helen Chung, Phyllis Green, David Leitch, and Patsy Pitts, who feature the shoe as protagonist in their individual artistic narratives. 

A step into pedagogy, a vignette is devoted to contributions by Otis alumni and faculty who have designed, fabricated, or illustrated footwear.

Artists, designers, and collectors in the Exhibition include: Alex Becerra, Gaza Bowen, Helen Chung, Jean Concoff, Twin Daniel, Steven Evans, Alexandra Felix, Phyllis Green, Amara Hark-Weber, Chaz Inouye, Paul Kaufman, Jacob Kim, David Leitch, Melissa Leventon, Anna Miller, Patsy Pitts, Luis Ramirez, Karen Regoli, Rebecca Reisman, Wes Shugart, Lucinda Smith, Lisa Sorrell, Elisabeth Thorsen, UNITED NUDE, Gregory Weir-Quiton, Pamela Weir-Quiton, Joshua Wong, Allison Zahorik.

Exhibition and programming funded in part by the Boardman Family Foundation in memory of Bob Boardman.


Free, open to the public: 

  • Saturday February 8, 2020, 4:00-6:00 p.m.: Opening Reception at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College, 9045 Lincoln Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045
  • Saturday, February 29, 4:00 p.m. / 6:00 p.m. Reception | Lecture: “A Flair for Design,” by Lisa Sorrell, custom cowboy boot maker and leather artist, who will discuss her path to becoming a master boot maker. At Craft in America Center, 8415 W. Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. 
  • Saturday, March 28, 2:00 p.m. | Lecture: “Innovation and Style in 20th and 21st Century Shoes,” by Melissa Leventon, costume and textile curator and historian, who will speak on key developments, designers, and trends in footwear since 1900. At The Forum, Otis College.

Main image: “ILABO Shoe, 2013” by Ross Lovegrove for UNITED NUDE (3-D printed); Top image: “Muscle Memory Regrounding, 2013” by Amara Hark Weber (basswood and kidskin leather); Bottom illustration: “Sophia Webster Open-Toe Bootie” by Joshua Wong (felt marker and watercolor on paper).