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Groundbreaking Virgil Abloh exhibit headed to ICA

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Groundbreaking Virgil Abloh exhibit headed to ICA
Virgil Abloh PHOTO: Bogdan Plakov, © Virgil Abloh

This summer, the ICA Boston will present its first exhibition devoted to work by artist and designer Virgil Abloh. “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech,” will delve into the artist’s work in fashion, painting, music and design. Originally organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the groundbreaking show will debut in Boston on July 3.

Abloh is the founder and creative director of the streetwear label Off-White and current artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. He is a visual artist, furniture designer, graphic designer and philanthropist as well, and his talents transcend medium, utilizing many artistic practices simultaneously.

“FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY,” 2018 Coated canvas, natural cowhide, leather trimmings, cotton textile lining, and ceramic chain Courtesy Gymnastics Art Institute © Virgil Abloh

“FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY,” 2018
Coated canvas, natural cowhide, leather trimmings, cotton textile lining, and ceramic chain Courtesy Gymnastics Art Institute © Virgil Abloh

“Abloh’s creativity is unstoppable and wildly innovative. He made his mark by celebrating the spirit of streetwear culture, while also appropriating and altering high culture to create something exciting and new,” says Ruth Erickson, the ICA’s Mannion Family Curator.

The artist’s ability to reflect on and, at times, criticize the industries he actively participates in is a rare and important quality, particularly when those industries are so deeply embedded in the capitalist system. “Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh for Beyoncé” is a stunning black-and-white gown made for Beyoncé’s September 2018 Vogue cover. This piece is a celebration of sartorial design, a garment that blends the soft, flowing silhouette of a gown with bold, graphic stripes. In the same breath, “FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY” features a duffle bag in Louis Vuitton’s signature print attached to a ceramic chain that’s bolted to the floor. Here, the artist turns on his heel to comment on “slaves to fashion” and the use of luxury brands to perpetuate classist structures.

“Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh™ for Beyoncé,” 2018 Courtesy Gymnastics Art Institute © Virgil Abloh

“Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh™ for Beyoncé,” 2018
Courtesy Gymnastics Art Institute © Virgil Abloh

“‘Figures of Speech’ guides visitors through signature moments in the past 20 years of Abloh’s creative life,” says Erickson, “presenting a range of projects and collaborations that reflect his ability to channel far-reaching influences — from Caravaggio and Mies van der Rohe to skateboarding and 1980s graffiti — into his own unique approach.”

Collaborations are another hallmark of Abloh’s portfolio. “IN HIS IMAGE” (A TRIBUTE TO YEEZUS) features a large-scale version of the album art Abloh designed for Kanye West’s sixth album, “Yeezus.” Abloh also has designed a limited-edition line for Ikea called “MARKERAD,” an endeavor alluded to in the exhibition’s “Dorm Room,” a sculptural installation of products from the line. The furniture line, like much of Abloh’s work, is minimalist and functional with allusions to art history and doses of cheeky humor.

“Figures of Speech” will be divided into five sections: Early Work, Fashion, Music, Black Gaze and Design. The ICA plans to set the tone of the exhibition before visitors even get to the galleries, placing Abloh’s piece “PSA,” an 18-foot-long flag that reads, “QUESTION EVERYTHING,” in the elevator shaft. And “Question everything” truly is the theme of Abloh’s work. Misconceptions about fashion, race and artistic mediums have no place here.

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