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Virgil Abloh (Rockford, Illinois, 1980–2021, Chicago, Illinois). “PINK PANTHER,” 2019. Insulation foam, stainless steel, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Gymnastics Art Institute & Virgil Abloh Securities. (Photo: © Gymnastics Art Institute)

Virgil Abloh, the fashion designer of the Instagram generation who died in 2021, not only made the transition from streetwear to couture seemingly effortlessly. He also understood, like few others, how to exploit the possibilities of brands and labels. He has even been able to give the familiar a completely new image with targeted interventions and subtle but striking changes. Among other things, he practiced this for the Braun brand on Dieter Rams’ legendary wall unit from 1965 by chrome-plating its functional restraint in the style of a rapper. Marketing, aiming at the history-obsessed generations Y and Z, enthusiastically celebrated Abloh’s readymades, stylizing him as the hero of a new economy that seemingly effortlessly managed to play with distinctions of all kinds. The name of his label “Off-White,” founded in Milan in 2013, appeared programmatic, activating every shade of in-between not only in the color spectrum but also in various disciplines.

From July 1 to January 29, 2023, New York’s Brooklyn Museum will present the multidisciplinary work of the visionary artist and designer who transformed the role of fashion, art, design and music in contemporary consumer culture. Developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the exhibition “Virgil Abloh: ‘Figures of Speech,'” the first museum show dedicated to his work, spans two decades of his artistic practice, including collaborations with artist Takashi Murakami, musician Kanye West and architect Rem Koolhaas. Also included are works for his fashion label “Off-White” and for Louis Vuitton, where he was the first black artistic director for menswear. Compared to previous stops in the show, the Brooklyn Museum will add never-before-seen objects from the designer’s archive, as well as a “social sculpture” that references Abloh’s architectural background. The installation, the museum says, provides a space for gatherings and performances and aims to address the historical lack of space for black artists and black people in cultural institutions.

Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh™ for Beyoncé. Dress (prototype), 2018. Printed LYCRA®, 74.5 ×35 × 24inches (189.23 ×88.9 × 60.96 cm). Courtesy of Gymnastics Art Institute & Virgil Abloh Securities. (Photo: © Gymnastics Art Institute)

“Figures of Speech” attempts to trace how Abloh explored the communicative power of design, where his designs and the people who engaged with them would literally become figures of speech through the use of language and quotation marks. The artist uses the black gaze to dismantle the structures traditionally created by whites in fashion, design, architecture, and art, and reconstruct new work through the lens of the black cultural experience. The Brooklyn Museum presentation is organized by writer and curator Antwaun Sargent. While the exhibition design of earlier versions of the show stemmed from Samir Bantal, Director of AMO, the research and design studio of Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the current design was developed by Mahfuz Sultan, Creative Director Clocks, in collaboration with Tawanda Chiweshe and Francisco Gaspar, Creative and Artistic Directors of Alaska Alaska, and Lance Singletary, Director of Exhibition Design at the Brooklyn Museum.

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