Last year, artist Andy Yoder was set to open an exhibit of his sneaker art just as the pandemic hit, and like so much else, it never happened. Now the show has finally opened, and the one-year delay has allowed him to create even more of his distinctive shoe art.
The exhibit, Overboard, opened on April 22 in a 40-foot shipping container that serves as CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery. Now located at Sandlot Southeast in Navy Yard next to Nationals Park, it’s filled with 220 replicas of Nike sneakers that were constructed out of recycled boxes, bags, and posters that he found in trash bins and yard sales near his Annandale home. The colorful creations bear traces of their trash origins: McDonald’s french fry cartons, Topo Chico water labels and all sorts of other refuse. The exhibit is set up to recall a Nike store, with shoes displayed on shelves that protrude from the wall. “It’s like going into the candy store and seeing this whole variety of candy,” Yoder says. “It’s eye candy.”
Yoder was inspired to create these shoes after learning about what’s known as the Great Shoe Spill of 1990, when 61,000 Air Jordan 5s fell off of a ship into the Pacific Ocean during a storm, later washing up on beaches (and in the process providing valuable scientific information about ocean-current patterns). Yoder thought that the sneakers were the perfect way to represent the impact of consumer culture on the environment. “We’re all suffering from message fatigue about the environment,” he says. “I thought it made sense to make sneakers because they’re such approachable objects that cut across boundaries for so many people.”
A year ago, Yoder was stressed about whether he would have enough shoes to fill the shipping container. So while the one-year delay was frustrating, it also provided the unexpected benefit of giving him time to make a bunch more of his creations.
Publicity for the show’s original, canceled run also led to commissions for custom shoe creations, so he spent part of the shutdown making them for paying customers—even including one of the Lakers’ owners.
The exhibition is free and open to the public through June 27. You can also see (and purchase) some of the shoes on CulturalDC’s site.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the exhibit featured 150 shoes.