Virgil Abloh has nurtured his passion for design and music for the last twenty years. The Illinois-born designer initially pursued a path in architecture, obtaining his master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. It was at his alma mater that Abloh first connected with Kanye West and pursued an internship opportunity with West’s creative team, contributing to the development of merchandise, concert designs, and album art. Shortly after, he began building his first label, Pyrex Vision, which officially debuted in 2012. This brand laid the groundwork for Abloh’s next project, which launched in 2013: Off-White. In 2018, he was appointed the new artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. Needless to say, Abloh’s been busy, and there are no signs of him slowing down anytime soon — especially since the announcement of his latest venture, “Figures of Speech”.
The much-anticipated “Figures of Speech” exhibition by Virgil Abloh opened its doors to the public in June at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Designed by Samir Batal (the director of AMO) and the research arm of the OMA architecture firm founded by Rem Koolhaas, “Figures of Speech” unpacks the defining highlights of Abloh’s career. The retrospective centres primarily upon the artist’s creative process across the several mediums he moves between: music, fashion, art, architecture, and design. According to Abloh via his Instagram page, “…‘Figures of Speech’ is an art exhibition rooted in advertising and ‘the projected image.’ Any time an idea takes shape on a particular surface — a photo print, a screen, a billboard, or canvas — it becomes real. This exhibition demonstrates how I wrestle with this concept freed from any one medium, looking for personal and specific solutions.”
The immersive rooms are individually dedicated to a career-spanning selection of his projects and collaborations. The nine-part exhibit moves through different themes, such as “Early Work,” “Fashion,” “Music,” “Intermezzo,” “Black Gaze,” “Design,” “The End,” “Public Art,” and “Church & State.” Each section chronicles phases of Abloh’s career, from his earliest contributions to streetwear with his label Pyrex Vision to the moment he was announced Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton. Segments such as “Fashion” emphasize his creative process in vogue, comprising textual and graphic elements he envisioned for Off-White’s men’s and women’s collections from 2014-2019. Another portion looks at Abloh’s creative contributions towards album art for Kanye West’s Yeezus album (2013) while he was interning at DONDA (West’s content, experience, and product company). “Intermezzo” showcases Abloh’s Pink Panther: Scales of Justice sculpture as the centrepiece. An homage to the artist Alexander Calder, the piece highlights Abloh’s DIY aesthetic and sheds light on his passion for architecture and design. The following portion of the exhibit, titled “The End,” identifies Abloh’s most recent projects, illuminating the power of advertising and how the section’s appellation is merely a figure of speech. Lastly, “Public Art” features graffiti-sprayed CTA trains reminiscent of New York City’s MTA in the 1970s, and inside “Church & State” lies exclusive Virgil Abloh merch to cater to streetwear aficionados.
The pith of “Figures of Speech” is the concept that anyone is capable of anything so long as they don’t hinder their own flexibility by subscribing to one point of view, one career path, or one idea. According to Abloh, the exhibition is dedicated to the youth of Chicago, who he hopes will see a part of themselves in his work and his story. It’s for those who never thought they’d see an African-American man from Illinois become an architect, a designer, the director of a luxury fashion house, and an entrepreneur.
The exhibition remains on view in Chicago until September 22, 2019.