By the time spring hits New York (that’s officially, as in March 21; it doesn’t seem the practical application is any closer to Gotham than it is to your backyard), Seattle artist Michael Leavitt will have unloaded his collection of cute but fairly, well, loaded, cardboard shoes and installed them in a show at Nylon-mag sanctioned Fuse Gallery.
Here, the artist/entrepreneur/Value Village shopper talks with me about his cardboard stilettos, art-as-commerce, and how little he cares about my new open-toed ankle boots.
Your upcoming NYC show, ’Don’t Stop Object Shopping,’ centers on the cardboard shoes you’ve made; you’re starting conversations about the art market—but also about the market, and art, in general. Commercial viability, both in shoe shops and in art boutiques is vital. Is there room, in this economy, for art for art’s sake?
I’ve always believed that fine art, high quality craft, and meaningful objects can be affordable; that collecting art doesn’t have to be a luxury.
Over the last half of the 20th Century, fine artists designed their work less and less for the living room. I hate art that matches the couch but room-sized art installations are just as extravagant as those corporate jets that people hate.
I think there’s still more interest in buying art than gallery walks or museum tours allow. In a creative field of resourceful minds, galleries, museums and artists can find plenty of room for a different, affordable, more commercially sustainable kind of art-for-art’s-sake… that fits in both the museum and living room.
Why shoes? What is it about fashion-for-feet, and functional materials-for-feet, that makes it an apt symbol for this economic climate?
As one who lives well within my means, I tend to view all clothing as materialistic but shoes are the most functional. Growing up in Seattle when everyone was gobbling up Microsoft and Starbucks stock, I’d always say ‘Why not Nike? Everyone will always need shoes.’ They’re profound identity symbols. I might dabble in satire of other essentials in a bad economy: eye glasses, winter coats, toothpaste, food items… but shoes are so intimately linked to our visual culture. They’re a necessity that we still get to have fun buying and wearing.
Even though I buy 95% of my clothes from Value Village and Goodwill, thrift store shoes are gross. I’m pretty anti-materialistic, but I admit I do still get a little rush from lacing up new shoes on my feet.
Tell me about it. I just rushed my way into a pair of ankle boots that I definitely don’t need. But once I felt that Italian leather on my foot and zipped up the hand-sewn zipper … But I’m a frequent flyer at the Value Village, too. There’s difficult shift-but-not-shift nowadays; those of us who lament lame-o stimulation plans and want desperately to see the survival of small, independent businesses and enterprising American designers feel like we have to shop — but those of us who fear a long-winded recession feel like we shouldn’t shop. Are you in some way hoping to help stimulate the indie art market by putting forward these examples of affordable, statement-making art? Should art collectors be thinking ‘buy local’ just like foodies and fashion lovers are?
Parallel to the fashion world’s globalization are the art world’s middle-men and out-sourcing. I hope people buy more art directly from artists, who don’t out-source their prints and editions. As creative as they can be, most artists’ lack enough business sense to be critical of their dealers, marketing options, and mass-production of their work. Many independent artists lean on the sale of prints and, much more often recently, limited edition designer toys depicting their work. Shockingly, the vast majority of these mass productions are out-sourced overseas. So I suggest finding artists accessible on the internet. Many have their own websites with email addresses. Many network on Myspace and Facebook. Juxtapoz Magazine is a great resource. I have a great list of these kinds of artists started on the "Links" page of my website. Their prints and toys are absolutely affordable, often very high quality, but it is also worth finding out if the editions are American-made.
But back to the shoes. This is a style blog after all. What was your footwear research all about? What kinds of styles, designers, and materials were particularly inspiring? What do you think of the whole thick, chunky, platform-toe craze? A little too lady-of-the-evening, no? But a sleek little flat ankle boot in peachy nude with some curious cut-outs? Tell me you understand my obsession.
In an effort to re-connect art with mainstream culture, much of my work documents pop icons. With this Fuse Gallery show, I hit icons in the last 30 years or so of shoe culture. They had to be striking as isolated objects; effective in cardboard. ’80’s Keds and Adidas’ Stan Smiths were huge. They didn’t make this cut because both designs, though iconic, were too plain and simple for the relatively drab cardboard. The era also happens to be my childhood. I was partial to the coveted shoes of my unrequited love (Air Jordans), and to the shoes that everyone had. Many of my "important" shoe choices are the ones I hated because they seemed like such mindless conformity to a trend- Vans, Chuck Taylors, Croc’s, etc.
No offense but all those current styles rub me the same wrong way—open-toes, fancy platforms, fur-topped boots, ankle boots, moon boot throwbacks. I’ll now be adding all of these to my cardboard shoe to-do list.
I love a person’s unique style, but I don’t care for obviously flaunted wealth. Why work such long hours at a job just to buy expensive things? Why not work less and spend that saved time as a conscious consumer? I often wish I could buy certain material things for myself, but I never have money to spend unwisely.
I wish it weren’t out of necessity, but it’s nice to find so many other people nowadays considering frugality as a more viable lifestyle.
(All images of Michael Leavitt’s cardboard shoes were taken, with permission, from his site, Intuition Kitchen Productions. Go check it out.)