As the creator of cult fashion brand Off-White, a collaborator with brands such as Nike, and the well-known former creative director for Kanye West, among other things, Virgil Abloh certainly doesn’t need to moonlight as an internationally known DJ. But between jetting off from O’Hare to show his collection at Fashion Week, speaking about his furniture collection with IKEA’s creative leader, Henrik Most, or working with Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Steve Jobs) on empowering inner city kids, he still finds time to spin for sell-out crowds in places like Berlin and London.
So when Michael Darling, chief curator of the MCA, called him to meet, Abloh assumed it was to play a show. The show Darling had in mind though, is the museum’s next big exhibition in 2019. The immersive experience will take viewers on a journey of Abloh’s creative life through architecture, fashion, design, music—all of the facets of his work, some of it from the past and some of it newly created for the exhibit. “It’s interesting that this has been my hidden life goal: for everything to crescendo in terms of an art practice,” says Abloh, who studied architecture at IIT.
And it will be quite the crescendo when the show opens next summer, following Darling’s previous successes, like Takashi Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg and David Bowie Is. “Here is this young guy from Chicago that is taking the fashion world by storm,” says Darling. “This story needs to be told here, and it would be a shame if another museum called it out first.”
Abloh takes pride in his roots—“cities have personalities, and what I like about Chicago is the urban environment minus the need to be in vogue,” he says—and he hopes local audiences not familiar with his work will see a contemporary young art practice that is a bridge. “That’s what my work stands for in itself: to connect two generations that aren’t normally in a dialogue,” he explains. “To me, there is no architecture without people, and my art gleans from the same point of view. The whole underlying premise is usually to show a younger generation that when they hear names like Warhol and Basquiat, these iconic names in art are people too.”
Abloh is finding his own path to this iconic status, while inspiring multiple creatives of all ages along the way. “I see a generation of art and artists at a place of sharing,” he says. “This is just a different medium to do what I do.”