Gallery exhibit put spotlight on artists' shoe fetishes

— Shoes can be beautiful, stunning, controversial and worthy of conversation. Hmmm, that sounds a lot like fine art.

It's the argument long made by stiletto addicts, and it seems to be gaining traction: Scores of shoes were the main feature of a recent art show at a gallery in the chic Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

Most of the work for "A Little Obsessed With Shoes" was commissioned, and careful attention was paid to displays and lighting. Jane Weitzman, wife of Stuart Weitzman, designer and founder of an upscale footwear company, was curator of the show.

Jane Weitzman is executive vice president of retail outlets for the Stuart Weitzman brand, and her favorite part of the job is planning the visual displays.

"I'm the only person in my family who isn't artistically talented, but I do have a good eye," she says. "I can edit down to the best stuff; I can find a jewel in a junk shop. These all are important things in fashion AND art."

An ordinary shoe decorated with a few bells and whistles doesn't count as art, she says, but ceramic slippers with a coffee mug and chocolate doughnut as adornment -- that's a different story.

Other artistic examples from the exhibit: corrugated-cardboard platform sandals by Robert Steele, green frosting pumps with delicate flowers by cake designer Sylvia Weinstock, a fairy's stiletto covered in sea glass with a light coming from the inside by scarf-maker Valery Guignon, and Robert Tabor's collection of shoes-on-wheels, a Radio Flyer wagon and a yellow taxicab among them.

Tabor also created a beauty parlor "collection," which includes a shoe with a mascara-tube heel, and a wardrobe of shoes based on "The Wizard of Oz," including a Dorothy shoe with braids, a gingham-check dress and ruby slippers.

All of Tabor's work, those done for Weitzman and other clients, are based on shoes, and he is not the only artist with a shoe fetish; apparently, there's a complete network of shoe artists, Weitzman says.

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AP Photo

Cake-maker Sylvia Weinstock used frosting for her contribution to the New York City gallery show "A Little Obsessed With Shoes," curated by Jane Weitzman.

There doesn't seem to be a preference, though, for pumps, d'orsays or platforms. "We see all kinds," she says with a laugh.

"Shoes fascinate people. A perfectly plain pump has a beautiful shape to it ... Then what we do is let our imaginations soar and then, before you know it, something quite wonderful evolves," artist Steele says.

A shoe's curves, lines and heel, especially a gravity-defying high heel, are inherently interesting and, therefore, a good canvas, he says.

"People just love shoes. Someone once told me when women still wore hats that when a woman is down in the dumps, she buys a hat, while a man buys shoes. Now that people don't wear hats anymore, we all rush out and buy a pair of shoes," he says.

Some of the most visually exciting pieces of shoe art come from unexpected sources and in unexpected media. Recently, an artist who works with metal using an almost extinct wax method offered up two shoes out of the blue.

Artist Cathy Wegman was inspired to embellish shoes with hundreds of tiny beads after she got tired on a shopping spree and decided to try on shoes because it would give her an opportunity to sit down.

Sometimes, Weitzman stumbles upon shoe art in her travels; other times, Weitzman seeks out artists whose work she admires, such as a hat-maker or a doll-maker, and asks them if they could apply their techniques to shoes.

"I carry around a line drawing of a pump and say, 'What do you think you could do with this?"'

When they look at her dumbfounded, she tells them, "Come on, have fun with it. ... You've got to have a sense of humor for this job."

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