Museum of Contemporary Art hosts the first ‘Figures of Speech’ exposition honoring Virgil Abloh’s career; the audience responds
The ‘Figures of Speech’ exposition by Virgil Abloh came to an end September 29 and left visitors feeling more open-minded and connected to the artist.
Held at the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MCA), the art showcase was so popular it was extended for a week. According to the MCA, Virgil is the first artist and designer to have a museum exhibition dedicated to his life work.
Young children, college students and senior citizens all attended the showcase, each with a different perspective coming in and out of the presentation. Rex, an MCA employee, noted that it took three years to develop. Though he isn’t an art student like most of his fellow co-workers, he is an appreciator of construction and design in general.
“It’s been pretty interesting to see a different group of people coming in,” said Rex. “Typically an art museum there’s kind of the higher class people and this exhibit has brought a lot of kids in from the street which is who Virgil connects with...The kids come out, and they really like it: they love the shoes. It’s a whole spectrum of people’s responses. A lot of these kids would have never walked into an art museum to begin with, they may never come back to one, but this brought them in at least for a few minutes.”
Virgil is an artist and designer that is reconceptualizing art, design, architecture, and fashion. The Rockford, Ill. native was influenced by Chicago, which has inspired some of his pieces in this show. He attended the University of Wisconsin where he studied civil engineering for his undergrad, then attended Illinois Institute of Technology to study architecture for his graduate degree. Now, he’s the Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton and founder of ‘Off-White’, a fashion brand of luxury streetwear.
Vibrant colors and architecturally sound designs are qualities that distinguish his work from other designers. He reimagines ‘streetwear’ styles by adding a luxury twist which was demonstrated at the MCA.
Jason, a college student and skater fan, was inspired by Virgil’s catalog. Jason’s interest in the Off-White brand made him want to check out the exhibit.
“I’ve kind of always been gravitating towards fashion because I grew up on 40 something and Kedzie so it’s kind of like in the middle of the hood,” Jason said. “My neighbor was a skateboarder and he would always give me his Thrasher magazines. So I’d always be really interested in all the clothing. He [his neighbor] wore shoelaces on his jeans and I’m like ‘I gotta do that.’ So it’s kind of like I’ve always been interested in streetwear.”
The first room of 10 titled “Early Work” displayed a video with a group of young men wearing Pyrex 23, one of Virgil’s first major solo ventures into the fashion world. He took old Ralph Lauren rugby shirts and screen printed “Pyrex 23” on them. Pyrex are glass food storage containers. The number 23 references Michael Jordan. He paired these with Champion shorts and hoodies, taking the luxury fashion and combining it with clothes everyday young adults have in their closet. Projected on a wall is a film titled “A Team with No Sport” which communicates this metaphor of taking something you use every day and combining it with something legendary. His goal with Pyrex Vision, his fashion brand, was to not only to portray a new solidarity among the youth culture but to also find a way to be seen and heard.
In the “Music” room, there was a lifesize display of Yeezus, Kanye West’s sixth album. To the left was the brass pressing plate album cover for Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kayne West’s joint album. To the right was a display box with the Nike symbol on it, inside the box were paperclip jewelry pieces in both gold and silver. Both embedded with diamonds, one of the necklaces had green letters on it that said “Personal” and “Copy.” This room portrayed his involvement and integration with the music world along with the fashion world.
Upon entering “The Black Gaze” room, a high yellow neon sign with the words ‘You’re obviously in the wrong place’ hung on the wall. Below were nonwhite featured turquoise mannequins in Virgil’s Louis Vuitton collection, all in atypical poses. In this segment of the expo, Virgil is showcasing art and fashion in the lens of black civilization. He is taking and reframing something that is very familiar and transforming it into something new that may imply multiple concepts simultaneously. He is giving new meaning and power to the fashion world through streetwear. According to artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa, streetwear has historically been considered ‘black fashion’ or ‘black style.’ Virgil’s way of combining luxury fashion and streetwear challenges stereotypes and attempts to bridge racial gaps in fashion.
After viewing the pieces, Jason was tempted to go through the museum again.
“All of it you want to kind of soak in because it’s Virgil Abloh and he played such a critical role in Chicago and into the fashion world, just his imprint on the world is kind of big you want to read everything twice,” said Jason.
For Margaret, a retired daycare owner and Chicago native, this show was her first time visiting the MCA and an eye-opening introduction to Virgil.
“You really have to use your imagination, it changes your focus. It’s very interesting. The more we went through the exhibit, the more we kind of understood. He’s more than just fashion, he’s art. He’s more than just art, he’s music...he’s different” said Margaret.
Carolyn, who shared her first visit with Margaret, is another Chicago native and retiree. While strolling through the museum, Carolyn’s thoughts on Virgil’s art evolved.
“The only part I understood immediately was the yellow tags that the police put on the street for a crime scene. But some of the others, I had to stop and think ‘What is he trying to tell me?’ kind of thing” said Carolyn.
While they needed help interpreting some of the pieces, both Margaret and Carolyn felt they walked away with a better understanding of Virgil and the show.
Chicago was just the first stop for ‘Figures of Speech.’ The exhibition’s next stop this year is Atlanta’s High Museum of Art where it will be on display until March 2020. For more information, click here.