Review: ‘Killer Heels’ exhibit is a world of fashion and fetishes

“Beaded High-Heeled Boots” by Jamie Okuma are drop-dead gorgeous examples of the intersection between art and functional design.

“Aeronaut Pilot of Survivor Ship Armada, Decision” is an installation by Virgil Ortiz in the “Killer Heels” show.

When TV’s Ed Sullivan greeted viewers he often said “Tonight we have a really big shoe” or at least that’s the way it sounded.

The Albuquerque Museum’s “Killer Heels – The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” exhibition is a really big show, or as Sullivan put it, “shoe.”

With more than 160 pairs of historic, high-fashion, kitsch and far-beyond-the-real-world shoe designs and videos, “Killer Heels” is a knock-down-drag-out romp through the world of fashion, fetishes, feelings and foolishness guaranteed to entertain and maybe even edify escapees from the dog days of summer.

This traveling collection, originally from the Brooklyn Museum and enhanced by the Albuquerque Museum, is an enveloping and seductive exhibition of functional and nonfunctional sculpture that revels in the art-in-the-dark museum mandate of low light levels to preserve delicate art objects. The subdued illumination creates by default a romantically mysterious mood throughout the installation.

“Blessed” by Albuquerque artist Goldie Garcia is a vintage shoe transformed by the designer in 2015 into a work of art unlikely to ever be worn again.

Exhibition designer Tom Antreasian opens the show with a boffo monumental-scale pair of highly stylized upswept red heels that morph into a Pueblo pottery-inspired geometric black-and-white stripe-patterned platform that holds a mini-installation titled “Aeronaut Pilot of Survivor Ship Armada, Decision” 2015 by New Mexico’s own Virgil Ortiz.

Ortiz’ sculptural arrangement features a seated female figure representing a participant in the 1680 Pueblo revolt who has been magically transported to the year 2180. Apparently, Ortiz’ fantasy figure is deciding which of Ortiz’ over-the-top ceramic shoes to wear.

Though this may seem farfetched, Ortiz’ projection of Pueblo fashion to the year 2180 is actually the perfect introduction to the exhibition that only gets wilder.

Once inside the “pump”-and-circumstance-filled galleries the viewer is shown the history of both male and female high-heeled shoe design. The royal courts of Europe witnessed male usage of high heels going back to Hyacinthe Riguad’s 1710 portrait of Louis XIV resplendent in tights and red heels ready to wield his foppish powers.

But female shoes dominate the overall exhibition, which ranges from more businesslike designs as seen in Nicholas Kirkwood’s suede “Pumps” enhanced with gold and clear crystals to Goldie Garcia’s “Blessed,” a 2015 remake of vintage shoes wonderfully embellished with sequins, glitter, photographs, bottle caps and found objects.

Albuquerque’s own Jamie Okuma wades into the fray with “Beaded High-Heeled Boots” from 2011 that are just drop-dead gorgeous. The sheer beauty of their artistry may make one take a step back from actually wearing them but they remain in the functional realm.

Not so with Christian Louboutin’s “Pumps” from 2007. Louboutin has added extreme heels to toe shoes without the toe padding one might find in ballet shoes. The resulting vertical design should be dubbed “Prelude to a Broken Ankle,” to paraphrase Marcel Duchamp.

But Julian Hakes’ “Mojito” of 2012, though beautifully sculpted, also are a podiatrist’s dream come true. The graceful spiral of these otherwise wearable heels offers zero arch support.

“Beyond Wilderness” by Iris van Herpen is an organic extravaganza featured in the metamorphosis section of “Killer Heels — The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” at the Albuquerque Museum.

The show is divided into the categories renewal and reinterpretation, rising in the East, glamor and fetish, architecture, metamorphosis and spacewalk that allow blocks of related designs to be displayed together.

That said, Cinderella would have to choose between “Shutter Heels” by Winde Rienstra in the architecture section or “Glass Slippers” by Maison Martin Margiela in the metamorphosis area, for her evening at the palace.

Cinderella aside, Rienstra also designed “Bamboo Heel” featuring black cable ties as straps for foot retention. Give me a break.

Of course there are winged shoes to honor Mercury, flame shoes for Hades by Prada and feathered shoes to make you fly, but when you land you may don “Beyond Wilderness,” an organic extravaganza designed by Iris van Herpen in 2013.

This is one wild and crazy ride through the world of fashion and beyond. Get indoors to see it before sunstroke sets in. You will not be disappointed. Once again our city museum has done a beautiful job.