Off-White CEO & Kanye West Collaborator Virgil Abloh Secures First Major Art Exhibition | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, August 5th, 2020  

Off-White CEO & Kanye West Collaborator Virgil Abloh Secures First Major Art Exhibition

"Figures of Speech" Opens June 10-September 22, 2019 at Chicago's MCA

Jun 10, 2019 By Joshua Mellin
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Virgil Abloh is best known as CEO of Milan-based fashion label Off-White, more recently the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear collection and perhaps most of all as frequent collaborator of rapper Kanye West


With that resume, it’s no surprise he’s one of the most buzzed about artists in the world. In his mission to elevate street wear to a greater level of artistic acceptance, Abloh has secured his first major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, "Figures of Speech," opening today, June 10th, and running through September 22nd, 2019. 


The exhibition delves into the various aspects of his career as a fashion designer, DJ and designer. 


At previews this weekend the artist was joined by fellow American artist, Theaster Gates, Kanye West himself, and contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. An opening night gala was headlined by a piano performance by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange.


While there are some interesting ideas to unpack, the exhibit was one of few highs and more lows. Vinyl album covers made out of Virgil’s promotional instagram posts for his DJ gigs were a fascinating way of bringing art that lives digitally to life. Though an enlarged representation of Kanye’s Yeezus album cover Abloh designed sits mid-way through, like a promotional piece that was pulled out of a shuttered Sam Goody store. Despite that, it will surely be featured heavily by visitors on instagram. 


The experience mostly feels like being in a store, from racks of shirts to shoes laid out and in one portion pieces from his otherwise interesting IKEA collaboration seemingly thrown together in a corner haphazardly. It never seems fully clear if this is a commentary on consumerism or a vision of it. 


In this way, “Figures of Speech” is a conundrum. It’s a commentary on high fashion, but also represents it. One of the items being sold as part of the exhibition is the Nike Air Force 1 ’07 Virgil Aboh x MCA, a baby blue Nike Air Force One with Abloh’s signature apostrophes over “AIR” and an attached red tag. While it would suggest a demystifying around the value we put into “shiny objects” as Abloh himself referred to them, of course it has the opposite effect in creating a hysteria for these rarified items of whose most intrinsic value is hype. Less seems to separate an Abloh designed shoe and say a brick made by Supreme, than an actual Nike shoe. 


At times, these moments suggested the presentation was reverse engineered to achieve the goal of having an exhibition, rather than having the art to fill it. Indeed, much of it was created after the MCA approached the artist. Abloh himself admitted a hypothetical retrospective of Kanye's work would be 20 times greater than his, and “Figures of Speech” may function as a precursor to convincing the parties that be to bring that to fruition. 


The collaboration between he MCA and Abloh obviously benefits both. Abloh can claim a greater level of artistic acceptance and authenticity as a museum exhibited artist, whereas the MCA can cash in on his mainstream popularity. A store “Church & State,” features a slew of exclusively produced t-shirts, hoodies, handbags, and other items at “price points” ranging from tourist to prospector.   


“Prototyping” was a concept referenced by Abloh many times during his presentation and the exhibiton felt that way in many respects. Intriguing, but unfinished. 


Abloh cited his goal in the exhibit is to inspire the youth of Chicago, who may have not otherwise had the interest to experience an art institution such as the MCA, to take up their own creative endeavors. Hopefully they’re smart enough to take his own advice, go paint some Air Force Ones, slap a red tag on them, and make their own 1-of-1 design. “That’s what I’d have done,” Abloh said.  


Check out our gallery from the weekend's preview here


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