Many Saturday mornings my younger brother gets up at the crack of down to get in line at the Finish Line store 30 minutes from my parents’ house. He is frantic and desperate to get a hold of the latest Michael Jordan tennis shoe, and I never understood why until I saw Josh Luber’s TED Talk about the $380 million underground sneaker market. “Sneakerheads,” many of them teenagers and men younger than 40, buy and sell coveted limited release sneakers online for bragging rights and a lot of money. Granted, my brother is quote unquote wearing his wealth, but he is not alone, and the High Museum of Atlanta’s “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibition is proof.
I was assigned to review the exhibition for a magazine called Burnaway (read my review), and I had never seen so many people of color, especially young men in the midtown art institution in my life as I did on opening day. Many of them were swapping sneaker stories, wearing their best kicks, and sharing the experience on Snapchat. What a curator’s dream!
The exhibition offers a great overview of the history of tennis shoes in the western world and has over 150 pairs of sneakers from the 1800’s to today. There are some areas that warrant more depth, like the materialism and greed that fuel the sneaker market, the exclusion of women, the role racism plays in the showmanship of having cool kicks, and I also wish there were some more artistic looking sneakers, but, overall it is worth checking out. Read my review for more details.