Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech” with MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling

Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech” with MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling

As the fashion world continues to be obsessed with Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton and creator of Off-White, The 10,000 traveled to Chicago for “Figures of Speech,” a monumental exhibit highlighting pivotal moments in Abloh’s over 15 years in fashion, music and design. Fascinated by the multidisciplinary nature of Abloh’s oeuvre paired with the artist’s own intent for this exhibit, we spoke with Michael Darling, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art. For further details be sure to scroll down and watch the video at the end of this story to hear Virgil describe the exhibit in his own words.

Describe your role at MCA and how you contributed to “Figures of Speech.”
I’m the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago, so in addition to my administrative and leadership duties I organize exhibitions myself. “Figures of Speech” is an exhibition I personally initiated and saw through to completion.

“Figures of Speech” has been in the works for a little over three years. What piqued your interest in Virgil Abloh’s work? To you, what makes his work so unique? 
I was definitely drawn to the fact that Virgil was born and raised in the Chicago-area and is still largely based here. Although he has made a name for himself internationally, especially in the fashion world with his Off-White brand, I was really interested in the fact that Virgil is a trained engineer and architect who then branched out into fashion, furniture design and fine art. I was interested in the multi-faceted nature of his work, which alone I thought would be worth exploring via an exhibition.

Aside from Abloh growing up just 90 miles north of Chicago in Rockford, Illinois, what makes MCA the perfect location to debut “Figures of Speech?” 
We pride ourselves on paying attention to the best work being created here in Chicago by honoring local artists with exhibitions or performances, which is one of the many reasons why Virgil makes so much sense. Since being founded in 1967, the MCA as an institution has been incredibly multidisciplinary, offering a full performance program that includes dance, music, theater as well as all sorts of visual arts programmes. We regularly look for exhibition ideas and concepts that allow us to go beyond just the contemporary visual arts world and into other disciplines. The nature of Virgil’s career and his story allowed us to do just that!

Can you explain Virgil Abloh’s ‘Purist vs Tourist’ concept and why it is so critical to “Figures of Speech”?
In this case the concept should be regarded as autobiographical. I think Virgil sees himself as both a tourist and a purist. Specifically when he describes the tourist, he’s speaking in terms of someone who arrives to a new city with open eyes and a hunger to learn or understand, paired with unbridled curiosity. Within each tourist lives some elements of a purist – a person who understands history and the value of a legacy, all while filtering life via a connoisseur’s eye. Virgil himself constantly toggles between the two. In terms of the exhibition we know that there are hardcore Virgil fans who will come to see the show. These are the purists, who actively seek out their favorite things. In my case I want to teach these purists new things that they may not have known about Virgil. As for tourists, these are people that will be learning about Virgil for the first time. The concept is almost like a pedagogical structure, which the exhibit aims to follow by addressing both audiences simultaneously. 

Virgil’s designs, specifically in the streetwear realm, have generated a lot of “hype” mainly among millennials and Generation Z. Do you find this exhibit to attract individuals who normally wouldn’t attend an art museum? 
With “Figures of Speech” we definitely anticipate that Virgil’s work will attract a different type of visitor compared to our typical visitor profile. Alongside first-time museum goers, we also anticipate a fair amount of crossover between popular culture art fans who attended the MCA for the first time during our Murakami exhibit two years ago, paired with streetwear aficionados. The goal of course is to attract uninitiated museum visitors by getting them excited about Virgil, but also to entice them to meander around the rest of the museum to hopefully find other things that interest them. We’re really hoping the exhibition will show a deeper side to Virgil’s work, especially his commitment to racial politics.

Why was the MCA renamed “City Hall” for “Figures of Speech”?
One of the things we constantly aspire to is ensuring the MCA becomes a gathering place for the city of Chicago – for people, ideas and dialogue. Virgil came up with the idea of plastering “City Hall” in his signature quotation marks across the MCA by coincidence. Ultimately it makes us question why a museum can’t be considered a city hall, or perhaps what’s lacking from a traditional city hall that could perhaps be reimagined with a museum. Although it was purely Virgil’s idea, it absolutely aligned with our aspirations for the MCA so we gladly figured out a way to put that on the front of the building.

In the below video produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Abloh discusses his wide-ranging influences and the creative philosophy that has shaped his career in fashion and beyond:

Related Stories

Leave a Comment

Leave A Comment Your email address will not be published