This summer, the first-ever museum exhibit devoted to the genre-spanning work of designer Virgil Abloh will debut in New York, the Brooklyn Museum recently announced.   

Before his death in November 2021 from cancer, Abloh broke ground as Louis Vuitton’s first-ever Black artistic director – a crowning achievement on a resume full of highlights, from earning a masters degree in architecture to serving as creative director for Kanye West’s Donda to launching the luxe-streetwear brand Off-White to creating a mass-market collection for Ikea. 

Opening July 1 and running through January 29, 2023, Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” will celebrate that polymath perspective, featuring Abloh’s collaborations with West, artist Takashi Murakami and architect Rem Koolhaas, plus an array of fashion-oriented materials and deep cuts from the archives. These objects, guest curator Antwaun Sargent said in a press release,  “touch on the ways he blurred the boundaries of different mediums to make something entirely his own.”

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Virgil Abloh 'Figures of Speech' exhibition comes to Brooklyn Museum this summer © Brooklyn Museum

“I don’t concentrate on a particular form of art, I see things in a wider context,” Abloh told Vogue France in one of his final interviews. “No need to focus on one particular genre, whether it’s fashion, art or music... Tying your creativity up in a capsule corrupts the natural process.”

Anchoring the Brooklyn exhibit is his new “social sculpture,” a gathering and performance space designed “to counter the historical lack of space afforded to Black artists and Black people in cultural institutions,” according to the press release. It’s a monumental sculpture that “emphasizes how Virgil’s creativity made space for young people to explore their own ideas in ways that re-center art and design,” Sergeant added. 

That concept clearly resonated with the artist and designer. “These youngsters need to forge their own paths,” Abloh told Vogue France. “They shouldn’t have any limits put on them. I continue to be very inspired by my predecessors, but no one tells me which direction I should take. You need to go with the flow and see what happens. Being an optimist is what gets me out of bed every day. I see a future that is better than our past.”

Virgil Abloh at the 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion
Virgil Abloh at the 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art  © Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Who was Virgil Abloh?

Born to Ghanaian parents he’s described as his first style inspiration, Abloh’s identity was integral to his work. “It’s my epicenter,” he told Vogue France when asked about the importance of his African origins. “Africa is where I’m from, where my heritage is rooted, the one I grew up with. It’s my DNA, my own personal culture and as I get older, I’m getting more and more attached to it.”

As a prominent Black artist and creative, he was a trailblazer in various fields – a responsibility he didn't consider lightly. “I take pride in the fact that there’s a kid who’s living in, you know, Alabama, who never thought something like this was possible for him…. But all of a sudden, because I’m here, he knows [he can do it too],” Abloh told British GQ in 2018, ahead of his first Louis Vuitton runway show. “I’m not doing [this] for myself. I’m doing it to be a beacon of hope for someone. This is the legacy of any artist or creative: you want to make sure that your work makes an impact.”

Tickets for Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” go on sale March 10, 2022. Visit the Brooklyn Museum for more information. 

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