Pump Art

"I've always wanted to do a shoe show," says Barbara Young, Miami-Dade Public Library System's art services director, who admits to having something of a shoe fetish. A longtime fan of Andy Warhol's spirited advertising sketches of shoes, Young was curious to see what local artists would make of the functional and fashionable subject. "Shoes are very personal objects," she notes, "but also very visible in our public life."
More than 50 creative variations on the footwear theme are displayed in the exhibition All God's Children Got Shoes, on the main library's second floor. Artists' signature styles are often apparent in the small works, most of which were made expressly for the library show. Ceramicist Carlos Alves, for example, decorates the platform soles of a pair of old sandals with a sparse mosaic of small colorful tiles. Pablo Cano, who fashions fanciful marionettes from household objects and junk, exhibits a pair of articulated wooden puppet legs belonging to one Princess Havana, shod with tiny high heels. The Scull family (Sahara, Haydee, and Michael), the Miami art scenesters known for appearing at local events in extravagantly festive outfits, contributed a trio of red patent leather shoes, further brightened with tropical-color paint. World Famous J* Johnny, who regularly renders rubbery replicas of cupcakes and doughnuts, offers a Marshmallow Orthopedic Shoe with a Cherry on Top. Maria Brito, whose work evokes images of Cuban exile, covered a wooden shoebox with graphite drawings of a stormy sea. Inside the box a lone canvas sneaker embedded in sand looks as if it has just washed up onshore.

Some artists were inspired by shoe-related words like "pump," "shoefly pie," and "shoetree." The Cinderella theme is referenced several times in the exhibition, and a handful of participants have made use of kitschy miniature glass or ceramic shoes often found in gift shops. Others have eschewed fairy tales and fantasies for a minimal, conceptual approach. Elmer Craig's Stop That Running consists of a pair of car parts called brake shoes. University of Miami art history professor Paula Harper's Shoe Ready-Made in Retreat from Sore Feet features the offending strappy evening sandals tossed into a tangled pile. J. Tomas Lopez deconstructs a shoe and displays its parts (Simulacra Loafers). And Rafael Salazar contributes a photo of a canvas espadrille, titled Vegetarian Shoe.

Young, whose high-quality exhibitions at the library are consistently among the most intriguing and entertaining in town, frequently calls on large, diverse groups of artists to participate in her theme shows. Previous subjects have included cars, boats, portraits, still lifes, bookmarks, and artists' books. She stresses that hosting such lighthearted exhibitions are a way to bring together the community's disparate artists. "It's a great opportunity for inclusion and the artists really enjoy it," she says. "They get a lot of pleasure out of seeing their own work along with everyone else's."

-- Judy Cantor

All God's Children Got Shoes is on view through September 3 at Miami-Dade Public Library, 101 W Flagler St. Admission is free. Call 305-375-2665.

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Judy Cantor