The Art Angle Podcast: How Virgil Abloh Changed the Contemporary Art World

The first posthumous retrospective of the designer is on view in "Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech" at the Brooklyn Museum.

Virgil Abloh at Paris Fashion Week in 2019. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP for Getty Images.
Virgil Abloh at Paris Fashion Week in 2019. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP for Getty Images.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

The world rarely sees a creative dynamo on the level of Virgil Abloh—or one harder to quantify. A trained architect who was born to Ghanian immigrants and grew up in Chicago, he was best known as the visionary men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton (and the first person of color to fill that role)—the position he held when he died at 41 from a rare cancer.

Abloh's debut Louis Vuitton campaign image. Photo by Inez and Vinoodh.

Abloh’s debut Louis Vuitton campaign image encapsulated his artistic vision and spoke volumes about the creator himself. Photo by Inez and Vinoodh.

But his protean career began blazing long before that. A key early milestone? In 2009, Abloh interned at Fendi alongside rapper and fashion designer Kanye West—a relationship that led to Abloh later serving as the creative director for West’s agency Donda. He founded the short-lived yet highly influential streetwear label Pyrex Vision in 2012, selling garments by other brands that he screen-printed with his own label’s name and elevated to eye-watering prices—a Duchampian gesture that combined appropriation, impeccable branding, and the kind of gleeful outsider-turned-insider humor that marked Abloh’s career.

Installation view, Virgil Abloh: "Figures of Speech". Brooklyn Museum, through January 29, 2023. (Photo: Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum).

Installation view, Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”. Brooklyn Museum, through January 29, 2023. The quote on the rug is from Jian DeLeon. (Photo: Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum).

In 2019, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted the first museum exhibition dedicated to Abloh’s work in “Figures of Speech,” a sprawling show that brought in twice the museum’s normal attendance and helped cement Abloh’s legacy in the realm of fine art. Now on view in Brooklyn, the show explores Abloh’s luxury brand activations, perspectives on design and architecture, and collaborations with artists including Takashi Murakami, Jenny Holzer, and Rem Koolhaas.

This week, Artnet News’s brand editor William Van Meter spoke about the designer’s work and legacy with Jian Deleon, the men’s fashion and editorial director of Nordstrom, who collaborated with Abloh on one of his final projects—a capsule collection called New Concepts 18: Virgil Abloh Securities, which comes out this week.

Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through January 23, 2023.


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