• Jennifer Oladipo

Did This: Virgil Abloh "Figures of Speech"


You get the impression that this exhibit will never actually end. That's partly because, although signage in the last room directs you toward the exhibit exit, that exit path snakes past what seems to be yet another room to the exhibit.


In fact, it's a pop-up store. The actual exit called for a sharp right turn, but straight ahead was a clothing rack with t-shirts, hoodies and a "50% off" sign. Was this more commentary? Could it be that after holding up his designs with such reverence and style, Abloh wanted us to remember that so much of it is, in fact, a commercial enterprise? That the museum is a commercial enterprise? Or was it just the final week of the show and the deep discounts were an effort to move as much product as possible before the show was packed up and shipped off to Boston?

It was hard to feel free to browse hands-on through the clothing after being reminded by signage and the presence of guards to stay hands-off during the exhibit. Even the guards were staged, wearing "Abloh" t-shirts instead of the boxy black suits the guards wore throughout the rest of the museum. Like clerks in a mall store.


A decade of work puts Abloh somewhere between early- and not-quite-mid-career in the various fields he plays in. As much as Figures of speech is a testament to his prolific output and influence, it also begs the question of what his body of work bight come to reveal about the and his contexts over time. His hyper-productive oeuvre is a perfect reflection of his times, and it will be interesting to see where his influence will prove to be most impactful over time.


This visual art on display in Figures of Speech is, for the most part, less distinctively "Abloh" than the fashion pieces. For instance, a text-based wall projection reading, "you're obviously in the wrong place" called to mind a Jenny Holzer projection that says in part, "they said it was the wrong place at the wrong time, and to be glad." While Abloh's borrows from the movie "Pretty Woman" and Holzer's from real life accounts by victims of gun violence, together they form a mashup that tells us exactly where we are today: exposed, self-conscious, always under the influence of commerce.


After walking through Figures of Speech -- and its shop -- you're left with the feeling that the pot's still boiling. The ingredients are still being chopped and grabbed off the shelf. There's no longer a need to wait decades for a retrospective. When an artist's body of work is based on constantly devouring and digesting content from as far as he can as quickly as he can, any moment in his career has something to say about the times that, perhaps, couldn't be said again.

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