On July 1st, The Brooklyn Museum opened Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”, as a tribute to the iconic work of the artist and designer. The exhibition will be on view until January 29th, 2023. The exhibition touches on his collaborations with Kanye West, visual artist Takashi Murakami, and architect Rem Koolhaas. In addition, various items of clothing are showcased from his brand, Off-White, as well as his designs for Louis Vuitton. The exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum is organized by guest curator, Antwaun Sargent.
Abloh was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois by his Ghanaian immigrant parents. As a child, he found passion within music, fashion, and art, leading to his initial interest in architecture. In 2007, Abloh joined the West team after collaborating with the artist, Kanye West. In 2009, he began an internship position at Fendi alongside West. At this time, he was pursuing a master’s degree in architecture, quickly morphing all his passions for art, fashion, music, and youth culture. Abloh transformed the creative industry for BIPOC artists; his career inspired many and paved the way for those to come.
Abloh’s career was creative and expansive, morphing the fashion, film, and art industry while opening doors for youth culture and representation. In 2012, Abloh released Pyrex Vision, a fashion and art project that highlighted youth culture through film. The sportswear combined plaid, collegiate lettering, and bold font alongside Renaissance style. Later, in 2013, he released Off-White, known for its mold-breaking logo, lettering, and graphics, creating a new language for fashion, and re-defining cultural bounds. In 2018, he became the first Black designer to hold the position of Men’s Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton. In addition, Abloh had various collaborations with IKEA and Nike, expressing modern, practical designs.
Abloh received expansive recognition for his impact on the fashion and art industry, as well as on BIPOC youth. From a Grammy nomination for his cover art on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s album, Watch the Throne, to being named Fashion Designer of the Year by GQ, Abloh undeniably transformed the road of fashion and art. In 2018, he was named one of the most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.
“Figures of Speech” highlights Abloh’s expansive and impactful career and collaborations through his unique language spoken through the arts. His language often circled around history, culture, and inequalities, allowing his voice to be heard through his work — a figure of speech in itself. Abloh often used quotations to mark his defiance toward social norms. The exhibition includes archived designs, various garments, structures, music clips, and fashion runway videos. His vision, set in the initial exhibition in 2019, can be seen all throughout the space. Through using the theme of deconstruction, Abloh dismantled white-set standards and systems in the arts and reconstructed society through the lens of Black culture, as the exhibition highlights.
The Brooklyn Museum brings new additions to the exhibition. The new “social structure” will be placed in the center of the Great Hall and will serve as recognition of Abloh’s architectural background. The structure is a large, spacious wooden house equipped with speakers for performances, and activities. Within the wooden house, there is a picture on the wall of a young Black child engulfed in the Wizard of Oz sweater (from his Spring 2019 debut for the LVMH House). Abloh’s structure design calls out the oppression of cultural institutions, due to the small space history provides for Black artists in the industry.
While The Brooklyn Museum exhibition includes archival projects from the past three years, it also focuses on Abloh’s connection to New York City. Many of his influences are NYC based artists such as the designer, Shayne Oliver and the rap collective, A$AP Mob. Through Abloh’s collaboration with Oliver, the NYC high-end streetwear blossomed. Furthermore, Abloh’s collaboration with A$AP Mob (in the video for his launch of Pyrex Vision) along with his musical background, intertwined the culturally curated sights and sounds of hip-hop in his work.
Abloh’s impact through his work across the arts was rule-breaking, innovative, yet immortal to the aging of trends and shifting patterns. His work transcends the route of fashion and art, as the exhibition pays tribute to his power in opening doors for underrepresented communities.