Walking a mile

In someone else's heels.

Shoes have power: Think of Dorothy's glittery red pumps, Mercury's winged feet, the lure and threat of the dominatrix's spiked heel. But of the 40 works that curator Lesa Sawahata, a former arts reviewer for the LA Times Magazine, gathered for "Shoes as Muse," only a few tread deeply into the subject. For a show about shoes, this one could have used more sole.

Shoes as Muse

Pratt Fine Arts Center

through August 8

Lita Batho's steel-and-cork construction was impressive in form and design. A painfully rusted skeleton of a woman's high-heeled pump, the structure stands as unsteady as a crooked spine; it's a literal statement about the physical damage caused by some shoes. Prettier works are presented by Taiko Suzuki, who re-creates the geta, traditional Japanese wooden shoes, in handmade papers bearing ukiyo-e-like prints, and Susan Zoccola's shoes composed of stretched animal gut over steel frames. The latter appear as fine and delicate as royal artifacts from another era.

Kristin Tollefson's piece is unassuming but poignant: wire-mesh wings are attached to a pair of small, bronzed child's shoes, referring to every parent's delight and horror—the knowledge that the baby has flown the nest. Darker in theme are the pieces by Joan Stuart Ross (known previously as Joan Ross Blaedel) and Jennifer Carroll. Ross' Eating Shoes is an encaustic painting on wood in two panels. A chilling drawing of a woman pulling at the sole of a pump with her teeth are pasted on both panels; red, green, and blue pigments and wax mingle like bubbly acid. Carroll's Anorexia #2 shows a ballet slipper, decorated with the dial of a weight scale and covered with newspaper comic strips from Hagar to Cathy, all focused on the theme of eating.

Overall, "Shoes as Muse" is about as conspicuous as an old pair of loafers—it's nice and comfortable, but doesn't leave a great impression, as if it were hastily assembled. Maybe that explains the preponderance of high heels. I know very few women, least of all artists living in Seattle, who squeeze their feet into '80s power pumps on a regular basis. What I would have liked to have seen was a bit more modernity, a bit more honesty about life inside a pair of shoes—perhaps some takes on tennis shoes, Birkenstocks, rubber thongs, or raggedy bedroom slippers.

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