This June, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago will unveil its latest exhibition: Virgil Abloh: "Figures of Speech," showcasing the genre-bending work the Off-White founder has spearheaded in his prolific career as an architect, Kanye West's creative director, internationally-recognized DJ, and artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.
In a detailed feature for the New York Times, journalist Dan Hyman interviews Abloh about the upcoming exhibition and the 15 years of work that lead up to this moment.
"Lately, as he’s prepared for his exhibition, Mr. Abloh has been fixated not only on documenting his life and career but also assessing where, if at all, a self-described 'nontraditional' artist like himself fits into the modern art-museum landscape," Hyman writes. "He never expected the art world to validate his practice, and in many ways he still feels museums remain noninclusive and even hostile territory for new-age creators like himself, the sort who wear baby-blue screen-printed hoodies and orange Nike Dunks to meetings instead of black turtlenecks and small round glasses."
Abloh's concern, however, is with legacy, and the designer notes that museums function as "the vault to record what’s happened and to represent it for a lifetime." Abloh hopes that the exhibition “is revered and remembered," including 15 years of multidisciplinary creations, some of which date back to his teenage years.
“I need this to jell together the kid that knows every Tumblr post that I ever made to someone who doesn’t even know of Off-White but just knows my name keeps popping up,” Virgil told the publication. The writer notes that Abloh refers to his trajectory as an "air of possibility," which is particularly evident when looking at the breadth of the exhibition. The pieces range in material and typology, from "jewelry and chairs and luggage and dresses and turntables" to a "five-foot plexiglass recreation of the rapper’s 2013 “Yeezus” album cover that Mr. Abloh designed while serving as Mr. West’s creative director."
Additionally, the show will include a section entitled, “The Black Gaze," which contains pieces Abloh says center around race, such as the black ballerina dress he made for Serena Williams, and photos from Louis Vuitton's campaign featuring African children. A large poster with a working definition of the term "streetwear" will stand at the entry, which Hyman notes highlights Abloh's view that the exhibition is a "form of infiltration."
In the years leading up to the exhibition's debut, Abloh has come to recognize museum recognition as a positive development. "It’s a sign that the system was out of date," the creative director explained. "It shows that the kids knew better than the establishment."
Abloh's appointment to the creative helm of Louis Vuitton men's formally acknowledged the magnified influence of streetwear in luxury fashion, particularly for established figureheads in the coveted industry. However, the move also signals the designer's ascendance to the upper echelons of the art and fashion worlds. “For so long I didn’t see artists or designers that looked like me in spheres of high art or high fashion so I believed I couldn’t do that,” he said. “But now, in this moment, in a way, I’ve become part of the establishment.”