Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

The Bowes Museum

11 June – 9 October 2016

Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £10.50)

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More than 200 pairs of shoes from across the globe are used to explore the agony and euphoria of extreme footwear.

The display spans an incredible 2000 year period, from Ancient Egyptian sandals decorated in pure gold leaf to futuristic shoes created using 3D printing. It is organised into three broad themes: transformation, charting shoes from myth and legend including interpretations of the Cinderella slipper; status, exploring how impractical designs have been worn to represent a privileged and leisurely lifestyle; and seduction, revealing the shoe as an expression of sexual empowerment and an object of fetishism.

Designs worn by Marilyn Monroe, Queen Victoria and Sarah Jessica Parker feature, as do foot-binding lotus shoes, 16th-century chopines and vertiginous silk mules designed to lift skirts above the muddy streets. Brought together in a boudoir-style setting, the exhibits highlight how the shoe is a powerful indicators of gender, status, identity, taste and sexual preference.

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The 'laboratory' is dedicated to dissecting the processes involved in designing and creating footwear, from concept to final shoe. Featuring animations, sketches, materials, embellishments and shoe lasts – including the lasts created by H. & M. Rayne for Princess Diana – it documents how makers have been able to push the boundaries of footwear design, as well as the structural challenges of creating ever higher heels and more dramatic shapes. Featured are filmed interviews with five designers.

Venue information

Opening times

Mon – Sun, 10am – 5pm

Closed 25, 26 Dec and 1 Jan

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)