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Museum Musings: Sneakertopia – Step Into Street Culture at the ArtScience Museum

More than 20 creatives and contributors were in attendance at the press conference, including Honor Harger, VicePresident of ArtScience Museum and Attractions, Steve Harris, CEO & Co-Founder of Sneakertopia, and Ross Leo, Co-Founder & Executive Director of SL Experiences

Visitors can put their best foot forward and wander through a dynamic playground where sneakers, street culture, and art intersect at Sneakertopia: Step Into Street Culture – a larger-than-life exhibition making its Asian debut at ArtScience Museum this Saturday. Having made waves at previous stops in Los Angeles and New York, Sneakertopia was the brainchild of Emmy Award-winning producer Steve Harris and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Steve Brown, who wanted to share their love for sneakers with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Held in collaboration with ArtScience Museum, this iteration of Sneakertopia organised by SPACElogic with partners SL Experiences and Gushcloud International, is set to knock one’s socks off as it assembles a dazzling line-up of local and international artists, creatives, contributors and brands.

The exhibition includes over 100 limited-edition sneakers and 70 murals, installations, designs, and original artworks – many of which have not been shown before. It celebrates the diversity of sneaker culture, traces its history and examines its powerful connections with various genres such as entertainment, technology, contemporary art, hip-hop, sports, and fashion.

The Frugal Pop-Up

On top of works by 13 renowned U.S. creatives including McFlyy, Michael Murphy, Mimi Yoon, Tommii Lim, and smoluk, Sneakertopia offers a perspective closer to home through 17 Singaporean and locally-based creatives and contributors.

From artists HURUHARA, Inkten, Juls, Kristal Melson, PHUNK, soph O, and tobyato, to DJ Kiat from SYNDICATE.SG, as well as designers Pek Shun Ping (ALIVEFORM), Josiah Chua, and Mr. Sabotage, the exhibition showcases the multi-talented creatives who have helped to establish the rise of sneaker and street culture in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

Among those featured, 13 of these artists and contributors are showcasing never-before-seen artworks in the exhibition – ranging from murals, prints, large-scale installations and sculptures to even a DJ mixtape with tracks selected based on hip-hop artists’ influences and connections to sneaker culture. These works are shown alongside sneaker collections and artworks on loan from the likes of Mandeep Chopra, Founder and CEO of Limited Edt, The Culture Story, and awardwinning popstar JJ Lin.

The Dream Room

“Born on the streets, this is a show about self-expression, creativity, craft and collecting, and about how a humble rubber-soled shoe became the epicentre of a cultural zeitgeist. Sitting at the intersection of fashion, technology and art, the exhibition explores the significance of sneakers, why they became so highly covetable, and how they have inspired athletes and artists around the world – artists like our own pop sensation, JJ Lin, who we are thrilled to have in the show with a selection of his own rare sneakers, plus artworks by Banksy, Yayoi Kusama and more from his art collection. This is our latest collaboration with JJ Lin, following the opening of his pop-up cafe at ArtScience Museum last year,” said Honor Harger, Vice President of ArtScience Museum and Attractions at Marina Bay Sands.

“The culture of the street is about living bravely, making bold choices, pushing boundaries and not being afraid to fail. We hope Sneakertopia: Step into Street Culture will become a place where people across generations, backgrounds, and borders can connect through their common appreciation of sneakers and street culture,” Harger added.

“Following the original launch of Sneakertopia in Los Angeles, SPACElogic is excited and honoured to bring this unique exhibition to Singapore and kick off the first leg of its Asian tour here. We are especially humbled to work with not just the renowned international artists from the first iteration of Sneakertopia, but also our talented local creatives, to curate a whole new concept specially for Singapore. Sneaker and street culture has evolved over the years, and it continues to be a universal symbol of status and self-expression. Through this exhibition, we hope visitors can experience how street art and sneaker culture have become part of our everyday community,” said Ross Leo, Co-Founder and Executive Director of SL Experiences.

Steve Harris, CEO & Co-Founder of Sneakertopia, said: “We are very excited to partner SL Experiences and Gushcloud for this exhibition at ArtScience Museum. Sneaker culture continues globally – it is cross-generational and unites all forms of self-expression.”

The Playground

Featuring 10 colourful zones, Sneakertopia: Step Into Street Culture will take visitors on a creative journey through the world of sneakers and all its connected cultures, inspiring them to leave their mark on each section as they come to embrace their creativity and self-expression.

It is no surprise that sneaker culture has its roots in the sports industry. This zone pays homage to notable sports heroes in sneaker history such as LeBron James, Serena Williams and Michael Jordan, showcasing how collaborations between professional athletes, designers, and brands have led to the development of innovative sneaker designs.

Mr. Sabotage’s collection of Air Jordan 1s, customised sneakers, collaboration sneakers, Korean-manufactured soles, workshop tools and skateboards

In two never-before-seen showcases, Singapore streetwear legend, Mr Sabotage, displays his passion for sneaker collecting and customisation. In addition to sneakers from the original 1985 set of Nike Dunks, varsity pennants and jackets will be presented from his personal collection. Another display recreates a second-hand vintage cabinet from his SBTG studio, highlighting memorable moments in his career, influences in sneaker culture he had as a child, and brand collaborations.

There are also 14 sneakers from a complete collection of Air Jordan 1s featured, along with tools from the SBTG workshop and his studio’s discovery of a sole bearing Korean characters indicating that it was ‘of the highest quality’ – a sign of the state’s important role in Nike’s production chain during the 1980s.

KICKflip (2019) mural by Jonas Never and Giant Skateboard (2019) sculpture by Steve Harris

Additionally, skateboarding is strongly represented in this gallery, with Tony Hawk and Lizzie Armanto performing kickflips and aerial acrobatics over a skate bowl. Alongside an interactive skateboard artwork by Steve Harris, this mural by prominent Los Angeles muralist Jonas Never honours the athletes’ contributions to skateboarding and sneaker culture.

The Backlot showcases how sneaker culture has infiltrated the entertainment industry through films, television series, and media. This includes well-loved Hollywood films such as Do the Right Thing (1989), Space Jam (1996), and Back to the Future II (1989), where Marty McFly’s futuristic kicks eventually became a reality with the Nike MAG designed by renowned American shoe designer Tinker Hatfield. It suffices to say that sneakers have transitioned from being part of various subcultures to a global cultural phenomenon due to the mass reach of the media.

JJ Lin’s personal sneaker and art collection

Visitors to this zone can also delight in the opportunity to see some of award-winning pop superstar JJ Lin’s coveted collection of sneakers and art. As a lover of street culture, Lin has generously loaned rare sneakers and artworks by iconic contemporary artists such as Banksy, Yayoi Kusama, and Daniel Arsham. This installation aims to mimic the layout of a house, with Laugh Now Door B by Banksy serving as the ‘front door’, framed by smaller paintings – or ‘windows’ – by Eddie Martinez, George Condo, Shoko Nagazawa, and Yayoi Kusama.

Available only at Sneakertopia, Lin has also specially curated apparel from the FW 2022 collection of his much-raved lifestyle label SMG for visitors to snag at the exhibition’s concept store. Pronounced as ‘smudge’, SMG stands for ‘Still Moving UnDer GunfirE’, which recognises the pressures of life and enforces the belief of persevering in style, even in difficult situations.

MANDO (2023) by Tommii Lim

Meanwhile, MANDO (2023) by Tommii Lim will be unveiled for the first time, paying homage to the popular TV series The Mandalorian, which highlights themes of connection, family and adventure. The concept for Lim’s artwork was inspired by a pair of sneakers that reminded Lim of his father, with the artist paralleling their relationship to that of Mando and Baby Yoda’s. The artwork conjures joyful memories of their past encounters and imagines their journey together into new worlds.

The Art + Sole Gallery is divided into two zones dedicated to creatives who have infused their works with a passion for sneakers. New York City in the 80s witnessed the rise of sneaker culture and a new generation of artists making waves in the international art scene, with the shoe serving as both a canvas and an inspiration for the creation of artworks. The first zone focuses on sustainability, promoting the repurposing and upcycling of materials such as cardboard and deadstock fabrics in creating new works. The artworks prompt reflections on contemporary society, patterns of mass consumption, and hype culture as brands adopt more eco-friendly and innovative practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by sneaker production.

The Super Large Superstar (2023) by smoluk

Inspired by sneaker culture and hip-hop music, Smoluk creates colourful sneaker sculptures using recycled materials, with the adidas Superstar and Nike Air Force 1s amongst her silhouettes of choice. These larger-than-life sneakers are a symbol of the widespread and unavoidable prevalence of sneaker culture in contemporary society, as reflected in sneakerheads who often amass ‘kicks’ and display them as if they are pieces of art. Her works also serve to denounce issues such as mass consumption and throwaway culture.

Created on-site specially for this exhibition, Smoluk will present her largest sneaker sculpture to date, made from locally collected recycled cardboard of all shapes and sizes. During the 1980s, New York clamped down on street art and graffiti, declaring the city a ‘graffitifree zone’ by 1989. In consequence, street artists including Futura, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring started painting in the suburbs, eventually getting into galleries and museums. The second Art + Sole Gallery fuses sneaker culture with street art, offering fresh takes on graffiti by a new generation of artists. While Mimi Yoon embraces femininity and the strength of women, Juls engages in mark-making and automatic drawing with references to tags and graffiti writing.

The DIY/Expression zone

Exclusive to this iteration of Sneakertopia: Step Into Street Culture are three zones – DIY/Expression, The Street, and Technology + Innovation. Combined, they exhibit a variety of works by local creatives who explore different facets of art, street culture, and design innovation. DIY/Expression embodies the spirit of collaboration and sharing of ideas that has always been practiced by artists, designers, athletes, brands, and celebrities associated with sneaker and street culture. The focus of this gallery is two Singapore-based creatives, soph O and Kristal Melson, who share a passion for subcultures, fashion, street art, and skateboarding. Their collaboration represents their responses to street culture.

(From L to R): Regardless, the Streets are HERE (2023) by HURUHARA; A Myna Rebellion (2023) by Sam Lo ‘SKL0’

Meanwhile, The Street is an ode to the unique street art scenes that have developed in cities across Southeast Asia over time. In this zone, visitors are confronted with an overwhelming display and influx of visual noise depicting the flurry and commotion of city streets. Here, Sam Lo presents a large-scale sculpture of a myna bird and a mural on corrugated metal panels while HURUHARA presents an installation of artworks, objects, and archival videos of regional street artists.

In Technology + Innovation, creatives whose practices incorporate technology and street culture are also presented. Visual artist Inkten has moved from painting on the streets to painting in Virtual Reality, highlighting digital artworks in her display, while Pek Shun Ping, a Singaporean designer, will showcase his 3D-printed shoe brand, ALIVEFORM.

Digital artworks by Inkten

Additionally, Sneakertopia: Step Into Street Culture features an interactive and educational Activity Space designed in collaboration with creative studio, Tell Your Children (TYC), that invites visitors of all ages to explore sneaker culture throughout the past, present, and future.

A Walk in Time depicts six famous personalities wearing iconic sneakers, each representing a different subculture. By scanning a QR code and hovering a phone over the artwork, parts of the mural come to life. Moving into the present, Take a Sneak Pic! offers visitors the opportunity to showcase their unique and individual style through their very own sneaker photoshoot. The images are then added to a growing archive of sneaker images that serve as a record of current fashion footwear choices. Fast forward to the future, visitors can sign up for the Sneaker Collage masterclasses led by TYC, which explore new sustainable ways of looking at sneakers through the creative use of recycled materials.

A Walk in Time (2023) mural by Tell Your Children

To commemorate the exhibition launch in Singapore, there will also be a concept store that holds a range of unique and exclusive collectables for visitors to take home a piece of Sneakertopia history. These include apparel from JJ Lin’s lifestyle label SMG, rare sneakers from Limited Edt, and other merchandise.

Visitors are invited to bring home a souvenir at the concept store

Produced in collaboration with homegrown designer-toy powerhouse ActionCity, exhibiting artists Sam Lo and tobyato are releasing their respective sculptures – A Myna Rebellion and tobyato sneaker stone lions – in the form of collectable art toys. This marks the first time audiences are able to collect their works in this form. Found exclusively at Sneakertopia, they will be released in several batches, with the first launch featuring a highly collectable ‘Artist Proof’ edition that is limited to only three pieces per figure. Every piece is specially hand-painted to the colours of the original sculptures, with unique packaging and certificates designed by the artists. A general edition of both figures will be released to a wider audience in the near future, with other colourways and larger edition sizes. Additionally, local creatives Kristal Melson, PHUNK and Mr Sabotage, will have their own personal merchandise sold in-store, while collectable t-shirts and stickers featuring artworks by other creatives can also be purchased.

In celebration of the marriage of film, sneakers, and street culture, a specially curated film programme will be ongoing at ArtScience Cinema on Level 4 throughout the exhibition run from 6 March to 30 July, with a range of blockbusters and arthouse selections for all audiences. This includes classics like Space Jam (1998) as well as recent favourites such as Black Panther (2018), Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018), and more.

Photo Credit: Marina Bay Sands

Sneakertopia runs from 25th February to 30th July 2023 at the ArtScience Museum. Tickets and more information available here

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