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The Brooklyn Museum features an item that might, for the first time ever, be the sole star of the show. Since its inception nearly 100 year ago, this accessory has been part of the limelight but has always been attached to the human body—whether in flight, in pivot, or in mid-stride. I’m talking about the lowly sneaker, which finally has the limelight all to itself in 1 the exhibit “The Rise of Sneaker Culture”.

I should be honest: upon walking into the exhibit I did not expect much. After all, how edifying can one Air Jordan sneaker encased in a wall possibly be? But the exhibit offers much more than an endless 2 procession of athletic shoes. 3

[1] The very first shoe I saw, an original Chuck Taylor All Star 4 from 1927 hardly allayed my fears that the exhibit would underwhelm me. [2] It was only when I read the placard beneath the sneaker that I learned about Chuck Taylor the man. 5 [3] After all, the shoe, which is still produced today, with very little variation in look and design from the original, is so common that you don’t have to walk very far before seeing someone sporting a pair. [4] 6 A professional basketball player, the design and the feel of his eponymous shoe had been influenced by him. [5] He was passionate about the game of basketball and held basketball clinics throughout the country, where he taught the fundamentals of the sport, stressed the importance of calisthenics, and promoted a shoe he believed would enhance both. [6] To create such a sneaker, he used the clinics as a laboratory of sorts, 7 testing out his latest design and making modifications where necessary. [7] What I beheld was the product of the man’s passion and dedication.

The main focus of the exhibition, 8 consequently, was the culture that emerged around the sneaker. Nowhere was this more exemplified than in the 1980s, when sneakers were not necessarily as much about enhancing athleticism as about 9 providing inspiration. And no shoe embodied this ethos more than the Air Jordan. With eleven years worth of different models in front of me, I could see an interesting progression—or regression, depending on your 10 sensibilities: of the shoe. The Air Jordan 1 is a minimalist masterpiece, conjuring up the early 1980s (think red and white, with a black signature swoosh). The Air Jordan 11, by contrast, 11 look like they’d be more fitting for somebody planning to walk on the moon.This development points to an emphasis young teens have 12 concerning sticking out from the rest of the “sneaker crowd”. This trend is reflected in the cost increase of each subsequent iteration of the shoe. All this I learned by simply walking through the exhibition.

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