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Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech” Prepares to Conquer Brooklyn

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“Fashion,” the designer Virgil Abloh once said, “is just one field of many that design can be applied to.” It’s not surprising, then, that the late Louis Vuitton artistic director and Off-White founder’s life and work are being celebrated at the Brooklyn Museum. The innovative designer who blended luxury fashion and streetwear died after a private battle with cancer last November at the age of 41. 

Opening Friday, and on exhibit through late January 2023, Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” includes collaborations with mixed-media artist Takashi Murakami, architect Rem Koolhaas, and musician Kanye West, as well as work from both Off-White and Louis Vuitton. The show originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2019, and Abloh had “a hand” in its initial layout. The move to Brooklyn was originally intended for 2020 before the COVID pandemic disrupted things. The current show boasts newly added “never-before-seen objects from the artist’s archive, as well as a ‘social sculpture,’ which draws upon Abloh’s background in architecture,” in the words of the museum

They continue that “the installation offers a space for gathering and performances, and is designed to counter the historical lack of space afforded to Black artists and Black people in cultural institutions,” and add that Abloh’s “use of language and quotation marks turns his designs, and the people who engage with them, into literal figures of speech. The artist uses the Black gaze to dismantle the traditionally white-crafted structures at work in fashion, design, architecture, and art, reconstructing new work through the lens of the Black cultural experience.”

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TIME magazine remarked that “the exhibit defies convention, skipping standard wall hangings in favor of displaying colorful sneakers,” and Artsy’s coverage highlighted “an all-white, winged garment, which … captures the audience’s eye with its skeletal lace wings, leather harness, and grand scale. It does precisely what haute couture should do: overwhelm the body and turn it into a sculptural work of art.”

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In an interview with The Cut, curator Antwaun Sargent said he most wanted to highlight Abloh’s interest in not just fashion, but everything from architecture to music. “What I wanted to do with the exhibition was show his fluidity. I wanted to show that this was someone who literally thought beyond boundaries and applied the different learnings that he took from architecture and design and art and fashion and put them into all the things that he was doing.”

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Also exciting for many is the museum’s pop-up shop, which will have exclusive merchandise. (One can sign up for push alerts.)

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