Curator Questionnaire: Brooklyn Museum’s Lisa Small


Lisa group shot

Lisa Small with Calvan Fowler, Chad “Sneaker Galactus” Jones, and Sean “Paper Chasr” Williams at The Rise of Sneaker Culture VIP opening at Brooklyn Museum, image courtesy Lisa Small

What about this exhibition made it a good fit for your institution and its visitors?

Brooklyn is one of the most important places for sneaker culture and our audiences at the Brooklyn Museum know that! We also have a long tradition of presenting exhibitions that focus on fashion. We were excited to present an exhibition that we knew so many people in our community would relate to and enjoy and that fit our mission.

What do you think visitors will be most surprised by?

How long sneakers have been around and that Chuck Taylor and Stan Smith are people, not just sneakers.

Why do you think it’s becoming more acceptable to blend art, fashion, and elements of popular culture in a museum context?

More people are realizing that fashion and other elements of popular culture are among the most powerful and accessible lenses through which to study and interpret history. They speak to structures of power, identity, nationality, gender, economy, design, and so many other key aspects of culture and society. Throughout history and in many different places, artists have engaged with fashion and popular culture in their own work. Recognizing this, museums are finding more and more creative ways to connect with their diverse audiences by inviting them to discover that certain objects they already feel comfortable with; a sneaker or even a TV or movie character can connect with art objects in surprising and revelatory ways.

Which shoe from The Rise of Sneaker Culture do you wish was part of your wardrobe?

Definitely the Pierre Hardy Poworama!

Why do sneakers belong in a museum?

Lisa Small and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels at The Rise of Sneaker Culture VIP opening at Brooklyn Museum, image courtesy Lisa Small

Lisa Small and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels at The Rise of Sneaker Culture VIP opening at Brooklyn Museum, image courtesy Lisa Small

Sneakers can be used to tell us a lot about various moments in history, as well as reveal quite a bit about gender, status, and identity, which are all issues that museums routinely explore through the objects they display. When sneakers or other fashion items are examined as objects of material culture, and are interpreted in that light, then they belong in a museum just as much as another item of functional decorative art. That they are often pleasing or interesting to look at is great, but it’s the way they are connected to wider histories and cultural moments, and can be interpreted as markers of identity or status, that make them of interest in the museum.

What makes a sneaker exhibition different from any other fashion exhibition?

Most, but certainly not all, fashion exhibitions focus on garments and accessories that are historically for women, and therefore their audiences tend to skew toward women. Even if men’s fashions are part of a larger exhibition, the women’s clothes are the ones that seem to get the most attention. Sneakers appeal to everyone, but men seem to be particularly obsessed with them. We’ve definitely had more men attend The Rise of Sneaker Culture than any other fashion exhibition we’ve ever presented!