This fall, the High Museum of Art presents “Virgil Abloh: ‘Figures of Speech’” (Nov. 12, 2019–March 8, 2020), the first museum exhibition devoted to the work of the modern, genre-bending artist and designer who became creative director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear line in 2018.
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, where it debuted in June, the exhibition focuses on Abloh’s creative process, collaborative work and pioneering discipline, which ranges across media and connects visual artists, musicians, graphic designers, fashion designers, and architects. The works on view offer an in-depth look at the defining highlights of Abloh’s career, including his recent designs for the Louis Vuitton menswear collection, video documentation of his most iconic fashion shows and his distinctive furniture and graphic design work.
“Abloh is an inspiring creative force who defies often traditional classifications and boundaries while remaining committed to his distinctive vision. When the opportunity came to present his work, we could not say no,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “Atlanta’s cultural community personifies style, trend-setting and pushing the limits of traditional design. We know Abloh’s work will resonate with our audience, just as it has been celebrated worldwide.”
Raised outside of Chicago by parents who emigrated from Ghana, Abloh trained in engineering and architecture and from an early age cultivated an interest in music, fashion and design. While pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, he connected with then-emerging Kanye West, joining a fledgling creative team to work on album covers, concert designs and merchandising.
Abloh applied the experience he had gained working with West to his own stand-alone fashion brand, Off-White™, which he established in Milan, Italy, and presented at the seasonal shows of Paris Fashion Week alongside luminaries of the high fashion world.
An artist who is always looking for new inspirations, Abloh takes an approach to fashion that is prompted equally by contemporary art, his architectural training, and the style-conscious world of music. He uses the codes of fashion to deconstruct modes of dress in a playful, Duchampian style. His inspiration began with the readymade of streetwear in urban centers like Chicago, where looks emerge spontaneously and organically from trend-setting youth. Likewise, his work celebrates the ethos of street fashion, where high culture is appropriated, sometimes corrupted, and served up as something fresh and new.
“Abloh’s designs reflect his keen perceptiveness of the world around him and his appreciation for and understanding of the pulse of popular culture in various media,” noted Kevin Tucker, the High’s chief curator. “That he is able to quickly distill these wide-ranging influences into his own distinctive approach is a testament to his abilities and fuels the international appeal of his work.”
Key sections of the exhibition include:
- Abloh’s graphic, music, and design work for Kanye West’s creative content company Donda, including his collaborations with West and Jay-Z
- Selections from his Off-White™ fashion line, including designs for women and men from 2015 to the present that embodies the essence of urban streetwear
- Examples of his furniture designs in gridded metal and other industrial materials
- Collaborative works realized with artists Jenny Holzer, Arthur Jafa and Ari Marcopoulos
- Designs for manufacturers, including shoes and Serena Williams’ “Queen” dress for Nike, prototypes for a 2019 line of furnishings for IKEA and recent works from his tenure as creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear
A 30-minute audio experience, which may be accessed via smartphone, is available for visitors to the exhibition. Featuring the voices of Abloh’s friends, colleagues, and the designer himself, the sections of the audio guide explore his early work, fashion, music and design careers, and experience as a black artist and designer.
Curator Talk: Michael Darling
Feb. 20, 2020, at 7 p.m.
Join Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, for a special in-depth look at “Virgil Abloh: ‘Figures of Speech’.” Abloh’s artistic endeavors encompass fashion, architecture, music, and design. This talk examines how Abloh navigated his groundbreaking ascent into the exclusive world of high fashion as well as exploring his unconventional approach to design. The exhibition will be open for guests immediately following the program.
Seating is limited. Please reserve your tickets in advance.
Free with Museum admission ($14.50); Free for members.
Photo caption: IKEA x Virgil Abloh. Photo courtesy of IKEA