TONGUE + CHIC | Hong Kong, Phillips Gallery

This free, unassuming micro-exhibition doesn’t look like much at first glance: a bunch of sneakers in glass cabinets. But closer inspection reveals fascinating artist collaborations with this mundane and yet deeply significant medium.

There are some celebrity offerings. Damien Hirst has collaborated with Converse, raising money for (Product)RED, with a print of his large, elegant butterflies from All You Need Is Love (2006) onto a pair of red sneakers, with white laces and fronts. Takashi Murakami, who has a long association with exploiting the “high art vs low art” aesthetic, has collaborated with Vans, picking a murky violet design of his signature cartoon skulls.

Outside of these celebrity contributions, there are some interesting plays with sneakers more generally. Kerby Jean-Raymond has collaborated with Reebok, redesigning the DMX Fusion to be hyper-customisable, with black string and tape bouncing off in all directions.

Elsewhere, artists have started with the sneaker as a blank canvas for them to customise, though of course, “Sneakers are not blank canvases”, as a displayed quote tells us, from Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum and Curator of The Rise of Sneaker Culture. Trevor “Trouble” Andrew and Shantell Martin have painted over their sneakers (Reebok and Converse respectively) in white, with Martin doodling whimsical, black-line cartoons all over.

No artist seems to have grappled with the connotations sneakers have for mass consumerism or child labour, but this exhibition’s primary function is to encourage online bidding, so probably best to keep it cheery.

Running 9-25 October, 14/F St. George’s Building, 2 Ice House Street, Central, Hong Kong.

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