Monday 22 August 2022
Christian Louboutin, L’Exhibition[niste], Chapitre II - Art or cobblers?
The official blurb calls it a "celebration of art through the wise and joyful eyes of contemporary designer Christian Louboutin". It's not just about the shoes then, plenty of which are on display. There are also examples of artworks that have inspired him, as well as collaborative projects with artists he admires.
I admit I went in with some prejudices. The idea of the shoe as a work of art is a load of cobblers, isn't it? I also dislike the idealisation of high stilettos as something women must wear to be feminine, gorgeous, well-dressed. It is a truth universally acknowledged by women, men and institutions. Remember when the Cannes Film Festival turned away women wearing flat shoes from a red carpet screening in 2015?
Next, Shadows introduces us to the idea that the "art of shoe design comes from a mastery of drawing and illustration". Hmmm. Is it disingenuous to say that Louboutin's work is 'craft' rather than 'art'? My prejudices raise their heads again. The designer's Nudes series, we're told, is "a strong - or even political - cultural act". I'm just exasperated that "lengthening the silhouette" of a woman's leg is something to which we ought to aspire. Let's move on.
In Workshop & Craft, the shoemaker's skill is demonstrated with humour, as a miniaturised, cartoon-like Louboutin larks about in a series of explanatory videos. It's here that I began to perceive the designer's sense of fun. Next, Suggestion & Projection contains an imagined British granny's chintzy sitting room. The introductory video tells me to take a closer look at the patterns on the wallpaper, fabric and carpets, and claims that all similarity with the work of French photographer Pierre Molinier is intended. In the words of risqué British comedian Frankie Howerd, "Ooh er Missus!". I knew nothing of Molinier before the exhibition. His Wikipedia entry notes his epitaph: "Here lies Pierre Molinier, He was a man without morals".
The Imaginary Museum section holds my attention longest. It recognizes the "artists and artworks that have been Christian Louboutin's constant companions since his teenage years". There's plenty here for the curious art amateur: a Helmut Newton nude, a towering headdress of feathers and pompons worn by Josephine Baker in Monaco in 1974, a Wedgewood medallion of a slave with the motto "Am I not a man and a brother?", a mural by Gilbert and George, a fresco by David Rochline, a turquoise sculpture by Marlene Hartmann entitled My Inner Beast (2017), Two Foot Flowers (1964) by Andy Warhol.
Humour and lightheartedness return in the final section, Pop Corridor, where two videos caught my eye. First, Beyoncé's Super Bowl halftime show in which she dances in a pair of chunky Louboutin boots (I googled it - they cost $1295, whereas her backing dancers wear $160 Doc Martens). In the showcase opposite, Kristen Stewart poses on the Cannes 2018 red carpet before removing her Louboutin heels in order to walk into the auditorium. It's a protest against the festival's dress code and takes me full circle, back to that exasperation with the glorification of the stiletto-heeled shoe.
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