Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech at the MCA
25 July 2019
Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech is the first-ever museum exhibit dedicated to the ultramodern, genre-bending work of Virgil Abloh. This sort of mid-career retrospective for a fashion designer is virtually unheard of in the art world. With the Museum of Contemporary Art only a short drive from 1000M, the special exhibit is creating a lively discourse that you won’t want to miss.
The Early Years Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh grew up in Chicago, where he was inspired by the urban culture of the city. Early on, graffiti, skateboarding and his father’s soul records helped shape his eye for design.
Abloh was pursuing a Masters in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology when he first explored fashion design. He became interested in the way that architecture could answer questions outside of its own discipline, and after a professor at IIT encouraged him to use his programs to design things other than buildings, he created his first t-shirt design.
Abloh and Kanye West
His t-shirts invited interest from Kanye West, and in 2007 West hired Abloh to help him realize his creative visions. Together, they worked on the rapper’s endeavor to merge rap, contemporary art and high fashion. In Figures of Speech, you can see a larger-than-life version of the Yeezus album cover that Abloh designed for West.
While interviewing with GQ, Abloh said, “When Kanye and I were first going to fashion shows, there was no one outside the shows. Streetwear wasn’t on anyone’s radar.” Fashion was looking for something new and exciting, and while collaborating, Abloh and West ignited the fashion world’s collide with celebrity, streetwear and social media.
Virgil Abloh On the Rise
Abloh branched off to start his own venture in 2012: Pyrex Fashion. He considered the brand an art piece, which culminated in a ten-minute film featured in Figures of Speech. Shortly after, Abloh founded Off-White™, his streetwear line designed in Milan. Most recently, in an industry-revolutionizing move, Abloh became the Creative Director of the Louis Vuitton menswear collection.
Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech
The 20-year survey at the MCA covers Abloh’s collaborations across mediums, spanning from visual art, music, graphic design, fashion design and architecture. The exhibit is divided into seven sections: “Early Work,” “Fashion,” “Music,” “Intermezzo,” “Black Gaze,” “Design” and “The End.”
Though the exhibit is controversial in the art world for its commercialization, Abloh’s stated aim for the exhibit is to produce five new Virgils. The artist is aware that he has a powerful influence on the youth of Chicago, and his street-savvy creations are a strong pull to bring young people to the museum setting.
Unlike some of his work with Kanye West, Abloh’s solo ventures are all about transparency. In a collaboration with luxury German luggage label Rimowa, Abloh actually designed a transparent suitcase that turns your luggage into a self-curated art piece. This collaboration, too, is on view in Figures of Speech.
Virgil Abloh hopes to teach others to see the world with fresh eyes through the transparent lens of his vision. He teamed up with the MCA for the Virgil Abloh Design Challenge to highlight the creative vision of Chicago youth 14-21. You can see entries to the contest on Instagram under the hashtag #MCADesignChallenge.
Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech is on show through September 22, 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, located at 220 E Chicago Avenue; you can see their hours and purchase tickets here.