Sneakers: are they art? Even the art purists among us who shake our heads vigorously at that have to admit that they’ve become something of a gateway drug for art, with Sotheby’s last July selling 100 pairs of sneakers at auction for $1.29 million to Miles Nadal, a Canadian investor who plans to put them on view in his private museum. And of course he’s not the first to put sneakers in a museum (paging Virgil Abloh). All this territory (and more, much more!) is covered in a feature Christina Binkley recently wrote for ARTnews on sneakers as collectibles, toeing their way into the art arena.
Binkley reported that on the secondary sneaker market website StockX, a pair of Nike Air Back to the Future editions sold for around $35,000. Earlier this week, another pair of kicks edged up nearly into five-figure territory, with Heritage Auctions selling a pair of rare 1990s Apple Computer sneakers for $9,687. The sneakers sold not in a sneaker auction, but—significantly—in a sale of “Urban Art,” inclusive of work by KAWS and RETNA, a clear signal that Heritage, at least, is happy to tout footwear as art. (And here’s a cute touch: on the Heritage website, they are identified as “late 20th century,” akin to, for instance, a museum wall label for a work that can’t be precisely dated.) Art Market Monitor, ARTnews’s sister website, looks at the market implications for the sale here.
Even those art purists who feel this post has no place on an art website have to admit there are some neat things about these shoes: they were made exclusively for employees of Apple Computer. Imagine your company giving you a pair of sneakers during your HR orientation. (No, alas, we don’t currently have ARTnews sneakers.) Maybe the winning bidder was a size 9½ and will walk around his/her/their house pretending they are an early ’90s Apple employee. And, Heritage tells us, “These sneakers are so iconic that in 2018, Versace produced a prototype” based on them. Versace!
“These were a golden find for any Apple fan,” said Leon Benrimon, director of modern and contemporary art at Heritage. “No one really knows how many pairs of these corporate gifts survived over the last 30 or so years.” [Emphasis added]
“Apple fans”? Apple doesn’t have exactly the same Jobsian aura these days it did in the ’90s, but fans of that era are certainly legion. The fact is, no one can really be certain how many of the 20 bids Heritage says it took to get to the final price came from “Apple fans,” how many from sneaker fans, how many from fans of “Urban Art.” More interesting is that “no one really knows.” “No one really knows” how many pairs survived! These Apple Computer sneakers are the equivalent of Leonardo Da Vinci paintings!
OK, maybe we went too far there. Anyway, feast your eyes on these sneakers. Conjure the ghost of Steve Jobs! Try going all John Ruskin on them? Whatever floats your boat.