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An installation view of Willie Cole’s new show at the Alexander and Bonin Gallery (all images courtesy Alexander and Bonin Gallery)

Finding beauty in the commonplace — some may even say banal — is one of artist Willie Cole’s strengths. His ability to rejigger the consumer world around us into something more fantastic creates the illusion that his art springs from the mystical intersection of folk culture, utility, design, contemporary art, and mythology.

His new show at Alexander and Bonin gallery in Chelsea, If wishes were horses …,” is filled with a tinkerer’s workshop of wondrous objects but his five African-inspired sculptures created from women’s shoes are the most visually seductive. The four wall sculptures and one large-scale freestanding work, “The Sole Sitter” (2013), transform our perception of the high heel show with a type of Sub-Saharan alchemy that extends our physical expectation of the material into something wholly new.

In an interview published earlier this year on Hyperallergic, Cole explained why he uses consumer objects to make art and focused on capitalist culture. “Culture is driven by the ego of the shopper,” he explained. “So much of what life could or should be about is masked by our obsession with buying and owning and wanting something we can’t afford.”

I don’t think Cole makes his creations into something more accessible, but he does sprinkle his pixie dust on humdrum objects to return a sense of simple magic that we’d been overlooking all along.

Willie Cole, “The Sole Sitter” (2013), bronze, 72 x 23 x 37 in/183 x 58.5 x 94 cm, edition of 3 (photo: Christina Price Washington, Image courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York)

Willie Cole, “Lizzy” (2013), shoes, wire and screws, 19 x 17 x 9 in/48 x 43 x 23 (photo: Joerg Lohse, Image courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York)

Willie Cole, “Zebratown Mask 2” (2013), leather shoes, stainless steel wire, nylon thread, and screws,
17 x 15 x 10 1/2 in/43 x 38 x 26.5 cm (photo: Joerg Lohse, Image courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York)

Willie Cole, “MBF II” (2013), shoes, wire and screws, 15 1/2 x 14 x 10 1/4 in/39 x 35 x 26 cm (photo: Joerg Lohse, Image courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York)

Willie Cole, “Shoonufu Female Figure” (2013), bronze with unique patina
25 x 9 1/2 x 13 in/63.5 x 24 x 33 cm, edition of 7 (photo: Joerg Lohse, Image courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York)

Willie Cole’sIf wishes were horses … continues at Alexander and Bonin (132 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) until November 16.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

5 replies on “Willie Cole’s High Heel Fantasias”

    1. Never noticed the sculpture was shoes til you mentioned you liked it. I love art cause you have to look at it carefully and it always tells you something.

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