Any textile artist would probably tell you that the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London is one of their favourite museums in the capital because of its permanent collection which includes a vast number of textile pieces, but also because of its focus on textiles for many of its temporary exhibitions. Perhaps Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is not really a textile exhibition per se, but it certainly included a lot of textile items.
The categories of display in the lower galleries included transformation, status and seduction. One display focused on shoes supposed to have magical properties to transform the wearer - like a crystal slipper for Cinderella. The "status" section shoes that were intended to display wealth or the ability to have so little need for walking you could wear shoes that were completely impractical. The "seductive" shoes included sexy heels and fetish wear. This was certainly a very broad display and anyone interested in shoes from a social, historical or design perspective would find plenty of interest.
Unfortunately this downstairs section of the exhibition was the most crowded area and with people trying to peer at the displays it made the viewing experience not as pleasurable as it could have been. This was for me the "pain" of the exhibition but certainly not as painful as I imagine some of the shoes might have been.
In the more airy upper gallery the focus was on the creation of shoes - showing how a shoe is designed and developed. There was also a collection about shoe collectors. It was interesting to see the range of shoes that people collected and also how some displayed them like art objects and others kept them safely in boxes. Some collectors wore shoes their collections while others just kept them as objects of beauty.
There were some audio visual displays including filmed interviews with shoe designers talking about inspiration and working practices which wss worth watching. Other imagery around the walls showed shoes being made - step by step.
This was an interesting exhibition and one I would have liked more with a little more space. There was a warning at the entrance to leave coats in the cloakroom and it would have been wise words to heed.
Unfortunately no photography allowed in the temporary exhibition, so the shoe image at the top of this blog is from the permanent collection - of which there are several in the costume display.
This exhibition at the V&A continues until 31 January 2016. If you combine it with the Fabric of India exhibition you may want to save longer for this much bigger exhibition, of which I will say more in my next blog.