It was just what its name suggests--a house covered in shoes. It was over on Charles Avenue, just a mile or so from where we live, in a hardscrabble, mostly immigrant neighborhood known as Frogtown.
A Detroit artist, commissioned by the Minnesota Museum of Art, spent several weeks nailing thousands of old shoes to the exterior of this modest little house back in 1996. It became a huge hit in the art world, and, pretty much, in the world of everyone--except those who had to live nearby.
I remember the late-summer afternoon when Doug and I went over to see it; our friends Steve and Tess were in town, and Charles Avenue was hopping with neighbors, and gawkers, and art lovers, and all kinds of people milling around and chatting. The smell of barbecue filled the air; some guy had hauled a big grill out into the street and was selling pork sandwiches.
Pedestrians way outnumbered cars, and cars took it slow and easy.
It was such a delightful and outrageous thing--nailing shoes to a house. Shoes didn't just cover the exterior; they dangled from the porch; they hung by their laces from trees; they marched around the edge of the gutter. Baby shoes, moccasins, tennis shoes, high heels, red shoes, white shoes, brown shoes, lace-up oxfords, nurse's shoes, pumps, sandals, penny loafers. We posed like tourists for pictures in front of it. I have to say, I loved it, and I went out of my way that summer to drive past it often.
Near neighbors were less amused. Frogtown is not a wealthy neighborhood. A lot of its residents are immigrants from Laos and Somalia, and they seemed slightly baffled by the concept, and concerned that once the novelty wore off they'd be stuck living next to a house that smelled of old feet and rotting leather.
They were right. The house was famous for a year or two, and then the owner moved out, and the house sat vacant for another year. Vacant, but for the shoes.
In 1999, a Hmong immigrant bought it. He told the press he was going to rip off the shoes and re-side the place.
I drove past it the other day. I didn't recognize it. Now it looks like every other house on the block.
A good thing for the current occupants, and for the neighbors. But a loss for the world of unusual art.
1 hour ago