'The world is so much bigger': MSCHF retrospective in Seoul expands art sphere

An installation view of MSCHF’s first-ever retrospective “Nothing is Sacred″ at Daelim Museum in central Seoul [DAELIM MUSEUM]

This fashion item dominated social media earlier this year, with countless celebrities and influencers posting it on their feeds.

And while it’s not news that fads come and go, it would have been especially hard to miss this one, given what the item was: a pair of ridiculously huge, cartoonish red rubber boots.

K-pop idols Jeon Somi, Hong Eun-chae of Le Sserafim and Taeyong of NCT were shown sporting them, with fans asking what those “Astro Boy shoes” or “Dora the Explorer boots” were.


MSCHF (pronounced 'mischief'), the headline-grabbing New York-based collective behind these Big Red Boots, describes the shoes as “cartoon boots for a cool 3-D world.”

With a retail price of $350, they initially only came in red, but now the product range has expanded to include a black pair and another yellow Crocs-inspired design.

They’re extremely impractical to wear on a daily basis, and the price doesn’t make it any more appealing — but many find it just tempting enough to try it on maybe just once. Catering to the trend, Daelim Museum in Jongno District, central Seoul, conveniently has all three versions out for people to do just that.

The exhibit is part of MSCHF’s first-ever retrospective, and it’s filled with satirical artistic creations that take humorous jabs at social issues and commercial corporations.

Jeon Somi dons MSCHF's Big Red Boots. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Titled “Nothing is Sacred,” the show is filled with some 100 pieces, a majority of which are interactive games or programs. They encompass fashion and art as well, so it allows visitors to “all go out with very, very different impressions of what MSCHF is,” Lukas Bentel, chief creative officer at MSCHF, said during a press conference at the show last week.

“We hope that when people walk through the exhibition, they walk away realizing that the world is so much bigger than what we can even imagine,” Gabriel Whaley, the chief executive officer, said.

“Everything from, like, objects in your daily life to systems that dictate how you can live can be used as a tool to express an idea to an audience,” Whaley added. “And that if you want to make art, you don’t have to be limited to what tradition dictates as an artistic format.”

″BTS In Battle″ (2022) by MSCHF, a retro handheld game featuring members of K-pop boy band BTS undergoing their mandatory military service, which can actually be played at MSCHF's exhibition at Daelim Museum. [DAELIM MUSEUM]

MSCHF, founded in 2016, has been using existing tools, systems and objects to communicate its own unique point of view from a “slightly” different lens, though that may be an understatement. That’s why the crew hopes the exhibition can help visitors rethink “what art can even be.”

These aren’t only parodies of animated bulky shoes like the Big Red Boots, though — they are witty, tongue-in-cheek creations that at times even cause actual trouble, in the form of lawsuits.

″Jesus Shoes″ (2019) by MSCHF [DAELIM MUSEUM]
″Satan Shoes″ (2021) by MSCHF [DAELIM MUSEUM]

MSCHF is known for using intellectual property of brands without obtaining consent, and one major example is its Jesus Shoes, which were customized Nike Air Max 97 sneakers filled with holy water from the Jordan River. The pair became the most Googled shoe of 2019, and gave good publicity to Nike as well, though the brand never actually took part in the project.

But when MSCHF followed by debuting 666 pairs of Satan Shoes, which were the same Nike sneakers but featuring actual human blood and satanic details like an upside-down cross, it stirred up controversy among religious consumers, dealing a blow to Nike. That’s when the sneaker brand finally sued MSCHF.

But that didn’t stop the collective from repeatedly poking fun at brands. MSCHF wanted to challenge itself to create “the world’s most expensive sandal” with its Birkinstock collection: Birkenstock sandals made from deconstructed Birkins — yes, the Hermès handbag. The sandals have been sold for as high as 90 million won ($68,500). Unsurprisingly, they have no official affiliation to either the German shoe brand nor the French luxury fashion house.

Taeyong of NCT sports the yellow Crocs-inspired version of MSCHF's big cartoon boots. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Hong Eun-chae of Le Sserafim dons MSCHF's Big Red Boots. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

One thing that MSCHF has made sure of over the years, and again emphasizing it on the day of the press event, is that it isn’t in it for the money nor the fame — so it acts like a free bird and avoids being confined to specific environments or themes. The crew is even reluctant to call MSCHF’s works “content.”

“The word ‘content’ has a very particular connotation that we don’t like, because what I think content means is that it specifically means material made to exist on someone else’s platform,” Kevin Wiesner, another chief creative officer at MSCHF, said. “It means it’s made for Instagram, or it’s made for YouTube. And I think, from the beginning, one of the criteria that we set for ourselves is to stay off platforms; to not be making things that are intended to live in someone else’s space, essentially.”

The MSCHF crew wants to avoid the “flattening effect,” meaning that content on a particular platform ends up getting presented in the same way. This is why, since its foundation, MSCHF built its own website and service so that it could be self-sufficient.

″MSCHF Wholesale: Daelim Edition″ by MSCHF, a parody of Costco Wholesale [SHIN MIN-HEE]

Even legal action won’t stop MSCHF from continuing risky ventures, with Bentel teasing that it still has “more trouble to get into.”

“There’s a lot you think you can’t mess with: people, brands or companies, that are, in our minds, really powerful,” he said, but added that MSCHF is of the stance that you should be able to do so.

“If you never push back, I think you’ll never know how you actually are existing,” Bentel said.

“MSCHF: Nothing is Sacred” continues until March 31 next year. Daelim Museum is open every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays except Mondays and 8 p.m. on weekends. Tickets are 17,000 won for adults.