virgil abloh's figures of speech exhibition opens at MCA chicago

virgil abloh's figures of speech exhibition opens at MCA chicago

virgil abloh’s much anticipated figures of speech exhibition has opened at the museum of contemporary art chicago (MCA). designed by samir batal, director of AMO, the research studio of rem koolhaas’ architecture firm OMA, the show takes an in-depth look at defining highlights of abloh’s career, focusing on the artist’s creative process and collaborative work across the different worlds he moves in: architecture, fashion, design, music, and art.

all images by nathan keay, courtesy of MCA chicago



‘for me, figures of speech is an art exhibition rooted in advertising and the projected image,’ explains abloh. ‘any time an idea takes shape on a particular surface—a photo print, a screen, a billboard, or canvas—it becomes real. this exhibition demonstrates how I wrestle with this concept freed from any one medium, looking for personal and specific solutions.’



curated by michael darling of the MCA, figures of speech marks the first museum exhibition devoted to the work of the genre-bending artist and designer virgil abloh. a selection of his projects and collaborations is displayed in an immersive space designed by samir bantal, who has worked through the lens of the ‘tourist’ and the ‘purist’ — two types of museum visitors the show intends to speak to.



‘I use this overriding sort of construct between tourist and purist to sort of categorize the type of work that I’m trying to do,’ comments abloh in a video featured at the exhibition. ‘a purist can find value in meaning based on an underlying premise. whereas a tourist has curiosity, ambition, and is willing to sort of seek out, to sort of, you know, pacify that need to see something or to know about it. so, I like to make work that attracts both.’



virgil abloh cultivated an interest in design and music at an early age, finding inspiration in the urban culture of chicago. while pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from the illinois institute of technology, he connected with kanye west and joined west’s creative team to work on album covers, concert designs, and merchandising. in 2013, abloh founded his stand-alone fashion brand off-white™ in milan, italy, and in 2018 assumed the position of men’s artistic director of louis vuitton.



‘an exhibition like this in a major contemporary art museum is the next milestone in the evolution of virgil’s practice,’ notes curator michael darling. ‘this show examines the choices virgil has made, the media he works with, and the context of his artistic inspiration. his projects have unfurled with intention, precision, critique, historical awareness, cultural sensitivity, and rigor, and when taken out of the buzzy, frothy context of luxury fashion, celebrity mannequins, and hip hop one-upmanship, a very measured vision emerges.’



‘essential to this exhibition, ‘figures of speech’ was for me to approach it with my architectural frame of mind,’ abloh continues. ‘a particular strain of architecture that samir bantal possess, as the lead of AMO. the dialogue between us early on helped guide not only the exhibit but illustrating what an instance of ‘architecture’ represents today.’



‘moving between fashion, art, design and music, virgil has a powerful palette to choose from,’ adds samir bantal. ‘leaning on his architecture training, he creates a potent mixture of these ingredients making his reach in contemporary popular culture extremely effective’. the exhibition remains on view in chicago until september 22, 2019 before traveling internationally. figures of speech is part of an ongoing collaboration between AMO and virgil on other projects, including the design for a new off-white store in miami.



project info:


exhibition name: figures of speech

designer: virgil abloh

creative direction: samir bantal, AMO

location: museum of contemporary art (MCA), chicago

duration: june 10 – september 22, 2019



the exhibition is organized by michael darling, james w. alsdorf chief curator, with curatorial assistance from chanon kenji praepipatmongkol, marjorie susman curatorial fellow. it is presented in the griffin galleries of art on the museum’s fourth floor.

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