A lecture from the Bydgoszcz Academy of Art cycle
Anna Kroplewska-Gajewska. Shoes in the art of the 20th century

Shoes were often a common symbol of the passing of time and of some obvious remnant of man. It is also a symbol of travel – the way of life. I will start this “hike” with the symbolism of shoes in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Then I will present the history of many interpretations of several paintings of shoes by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), painted in 1886–1888, that Martin Heidegger, Meyer Schapiro and Jacques Derrida, among others, wrote about.
Furthermore, I will discuss examples of works by artists for whom shoes were the carrier of individual and collective fate, e.g. Józef Szajna (1922–2008), Władysław Hasior (1928–1999) and Andrzej Dudek-Dürer (b. 1953), whose “living sculpture” is based, among others, on showing himself, for example, in boots, worn since 1969. Wherever the artist appears, there is also this “living sculpture”. Sisley Shafy’s boat (b. 1970) built of worn shoes, refers to the crossing of people in search of better lives; it refers to the current problem of refugees, showing how the dream of escape easily changes into human drama. The stack of cramped shoes found by the artist on the beaches of Lampedusa reminds of boats overloaded with crowds of passengers. The barge becomes a testimony to the forced migration of refugees across the sea, and a painful reminder of their constant struggle for survival.
Dorothy Cross’s works (b. 1956) are boots made using cow udders, evoking images of the rural past and issues of social position and gender division of labour.
Literary elements can be found in the shoe-based art of Anna Kaszuba-Dębska, inspired by the personality and work of the writer and graphic artist – Bruno Schulz. In the project titled “Szpilki” (Pins), she collected women’s shoes from around the world, together with their owners’ stories. The work by Magdalena Haras (b. 1970) titled “Dwie odsłony pamiętnika” (Two Versions of a Diary), presenting a pair of shoes, is inspired by the book by Sławomir Rawicz, “The Long Walk” (1955). Since 2010, a Sławomir Mrożek’s shoe on a tenement at Szeroka Street in Toruń commemorates the stay of prominent Polish playwright in the city (2006). A ceramic sculpture by Dariusz Przewięźlikowski presents the supernaturally sized original shoe of Sławomir Mrożek with a manuscript placed in it, with the quotation from the volume I of the “Diaries” published in that year: Everything can be the driving force behind history, even nose picking. The sculpture is an artistic commentary to the spring media statement given by a lecturer from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Nicolaus Copernicus University, Kazimierz Rochecki, who said the Toruń old town lacked the replicas of shoes of famous people who walked there. The author of the sculpture plans to exhibit it in various places in Toruń’s old town in the coming months, and where the shoe will appear, its print will remain there forever.
In addition, examples of works by Janusz Kapusta (b. 1951), Leszek Sobocki (b. 1934), street-artist Pejac, Claes Oldeburg (b. 1929) and Anna Cichoń (1982), whose realistically painted ballet shoes become the symbol of ballet in general.
Shoes often become attributes of wealth, luxury. In this part of the lecture I will present shoes by Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) or12 shoes for 12 lovers – the collection of Sebastian Errazuriz’s collection created for Melissa brand.
In museology, especially in recent years, one can see a great interest in the meaning of shoes in culture. This is evidenced, among others, by an exhibition at the Opera Gallery at the Grand Theatre – National Opera (17.03–16.05.2016) and in the Museum in Chełm, which, in 2015, presented an exhibition on the occasion of the 9th Night of Museums was presented, titled “Tropem buta” (Following a Shoe). From prehistory to modern times.
Collecting shoes is often an enormous passion. The Veerle family collection started in Antwerp. Letters were sent requesting shoe designs – Shoes or no shoes…
Wiliam Habraken gathered a collection of unique pieces by world-famous footwear designers. These are unique models by designers such as André Perugia and Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. Wiliam Habraken also collected shoes from various peoples from all over the world. He collected over 3,000 pairs of shoes from over 155 countries and regions. Also worth mentioning are the collections of sports shoes.
I hope that the lecture, inspired by a chapter from “Horizon” by Wiesław Myśliwski titled “In search of a lost shoe”, will help understand the importance of this object in our individual and collective consciousness.
Anna Kroplewska-Gajewska

Anna Kroplewska–Gajewska – born in 1963, art historian (Catholic University of Lublin), museologist – curator of the collection of Polish modern art in the Regional Museum in Toruń. The author of numerous exhibitions, texts about art and catalogues. She’s been dealing with the artistic environment of Toruń in the twentieth century, especially in the years 1920-1939. Member of the Association of Art Historians and the POKAZ Critics Club in Warsaw.

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