Virgil Abloh has his hands in many pots—something that is pronounced in “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech,” a new exhibition that opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It is housed in the space designed by Samir Bantal, the director of AMO, and is divided into seven stages—“Early Work,” “Fashion,” “Music,” “Intermezzo,” “Black Gaze,” “Design,” and “The End”—that have placed him in the upper echelons of the creative industries.
Since bursting onto the scene as Kanye West’s creative director in 2009, the Chicago-raised multi-hyphenate has received a lot of attention for the many, many gigs he has taken on over the past ten years. He’s the menswear artistic director at Louis Vuitton (where he recently unveiled an LV pop-up in Chicago’s West Loop); has his own label, Off-White; DJs parties around the world; forms partnerships with artists, architects, and filmmakers like Jenny Holzer and Arthur Jafa; and designs—or, at the very least, lends his name to companies that create—champagne bottles, turntables, rugs, sneakers, and everything else in between. Abloh’s commercial output has been vast, and, often times, celebrated. But does it really reach the level of artistry that is worthy of a retrospective at MCA Chicago? Michael Darling, MCA Chicago’s chief curator, certainly thinks so.
“An exhibition like this in a major contemporary art museum is the next milestone in the evolution of Virgil’s practice,” Darling said in a statement. “This show examines the choices Virgil has made, the media he works with, and the context if his artistic inspiration. His projects have unfurled with intention, precision, critique, historical awareness, cultural sensitivity—and when taken out of the buzzy, frothy context if luxury fashion, celebrity mannequins, and hip-hop one-upmanship, a very measured vision emerges.”
The way Abloh digests urban styles and ideologies, tweaks them slightly, and then adds his name to it, which then appeals to the masses, is a testament to his commercial prowess. It’s also the overriding theme of the MCA Chicago exhibit—so much so that his Church & State pop-up store within the museum will have new pieces and reissued items from his past stints available for purchase.
“For me, “Figures of Speech” is an art exhibition rooted in advertising and the projected image,” Abloh says. “Any time an idea takes shape on a particular surface—a photo print, a screen, a billboard, or canvas—it becomes real.”
“Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech” will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago from June 10 to Sept. 22.