ExhibitionsVirgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”
Past Exhibition

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”

November 12, 2019 – March 8, 2020

This fall, the High presents the first museum exhibition devoted to the work of Virgil Abloh, the modern, genre-bending artist and designer who became creative director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear in 2018.

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” offers an unprecedented survey of Abloh’s creative work over nearly two decades and pulls back the curtain on his process. The exhibition presents prototypes alongside finished artworks, product designs, and fashion to reveal his myriad inspirations—from centuries-old paintings to commonplace construction signs. Running throughout the exhibition is an emphasis on dialogue, which Abloh creates through his inventive use of language and quotation marks, turning the objects he designs and the people who wear his clothing into “figures of speech.”

The works on view will offer an in-depth look at the defining highlights of Abloh’s career, including his recent designs for Louis Vuitton menswear collection, video documentation of his most iconic fashion shows, and his distinctive furniture and graphic design work.


Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
Video (color, sound)
5 minutes, 55 seconds
Private collectionAbloh established Pyrex Vision, his first fashion brand, in 2012. He screenprinted “Pyrex,” “23,” and images of a painting by sixteenth-century Italian artist Caravaggio onto store-bought sweatshirts, shorts, socks, and plaid shirts. “Pyrex” nods to the glassware used in home drug labs and “23” to the jersey number worn by basketball star Michael Jordan. These references allude to two stereotypical ways disadvantaged youth can overcome their hardships: by selling drugs or becoming famous athletes. Caravaggio’s story, which Abloh learned about in college, convinced him that one artist’s innovations can alter the course of history, so he included the painter’s work in his clothing line to inspire others. This video to promote the launch of Pyrex Vision features members of then-emerging rap group A$AP Mob.

Pyrex Vision Main O4.jpg

From Look 2, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh™ Men’s Collection Spring/Summer 2018 (“Temperature”), 2017

From Look 2, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh™ Men’s Collection Spring/Summer 2018 (“Temperature”), 2017
Knit t-shirt, pants, boots, and bag
Private collection“Temperature” was presented in 2017 at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. Abloh enlisted contemporary artist Jenny Holzer to create video projections of poems about the refugees’ plight. She selected poetry by Ghayath Almadhoun, Omid Shams, Anna Świrsczyńska, and others to scroll across a screen as the show’s backdrop. Abloh drew on nautical themes and used materials from emergency and rescue professions, explaining that he felt a personal responsibility to respond to the crisis: “In this climate, coming off recent elections, I have a voice. In my work, I react.”

Mens Ss18 Look 2 O4.jpg

Wakanda Never, 2018

Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980Arthur Jafa
American, born 1960Wakanda Never, 2018
Windbreaker jacket with quilted lining
Private collectionAbloh’s collaboration with Arthur Jafa extends both artists’ inquiry into representations of blackness in contemporary media. The text on the jacket’s back is a play on the black nationalist rallying cry “Wakanda forever” from the 2018 film Black Panther– with a twist that implies the impossibility of a black utopia. Inside, the quilted lining in the pattern of the Confederate flag attests to Jafa’s long-term effort to visually represent histories and experiences of black Americans. The artists bonded over their mutual disappointment in the film and created this jacket in playful protest.

Jafa Jacket 1 O4.jpg

False Façade, 2016, manufactured 2019

Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980Fabien Montique
BarbadianFalse Façade, 2016, manufactured 2019
Print on vinyl with scaffolding
Private collectionAbloh often channels his background in architecture into urban design elements in his fashion work, whether in sites for photo shoots or, as here, in the scenography for a runway show. Made with his frequent collaborator Fabien Montique, this printed image brings an exterior architectural element as well as an incongruous scale to an interior space, making for a surreal backdrop.

Chicago Install View Virgilabloh 20190606 0035 O4.jpg

“Individual Pyrex Screen”, 2013/19

Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
“Individual Pyrex Screen”, 2013/19
Screen print frames
Private collectionThese screens are remakes of the originals Abloh used to print reproductions of a Caravaggio painting on t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts for his first fashion brand, Pyrex Vision. While attending college he learned of the sixteenth-century Italian painter, whose unique use of contrasting light and shadow convinced Abloh that a single person can change the course of art through innovation. Abloh continues to use images of Caravaggio’s paintings in his brand Off-White.

Individual Screens.png


Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
High-gloss paint on metal
Private collectionWhen studying the history of club culture, Abloh learned of interior designer Ben Kelly, who designed the iconic Haçienda nightclub in Manchester, England the birthplace of acid house and rave music in the 1980s. Kelly uses an industrial-inspired graphic language that includes such elements as safety striping, which Abloh also has integrated into his fashion and design work. Abloh created these sculptural fragments to echo the Haçienda days.

19 Beam O4.jpg


Kanye West
American, born 1977Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980“IN HIS IMAGE” (A TRIBUTE TO YEEZUS), 2019
Acrylic, tinted film, and mirror
Courtesy of the Virgil Abloh ArchiveAbloh designed the album art for Kanye West’s sixth album, Yeezus (2013), while working for the musician. The packaging reveals Abloh’s modernist architectural sensibility: only the necessary elements are retained, reducing the packaging to a single red sticker that keeps the CD’s jewel box closed and displays the album’s name. Here, he has made a new large-scale version to pay homage to the Grammy-nominated album and the graphic clarity of its design.

Abloh Yeezus.jpg

“You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place”, 2015, manufactured 2019

Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
“You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place”, 2015, manufactured 2019
Neon sign
Private collectionThis neon sign, which welcomed attendees to the Off-White Women’s Collection Fall/Winter 2016 runway show, takes a line from the film Pretty Woman (1990). A snobbish saleswoman at a high-end clothing store uses it to dismisses the story’s protagonist. According to Abloh, the statement serves as a “manifesto on how the modern girl doesn’t really work on convention.” The phrase also comments on Abloh’s journey into the predominantly white world of high fashion.

Wrong Place O4.jpg

Dorm Room, 2019

Virgil Abloh, designer
American, born 1980IKEA, manufacturer
Swedish, established 1943Dorm Room, 2019
Furniture, rugs, table, and chair
Private collectionDorm Room combines prototype furniture with rugs Abloh created in a 2018-2019 collaboration with global housewares retailer IKEA. Displaying Abloh’s experiments in subtly modifying existing designs to give them new life, the installation poses a question that is fundamental to his practice: Does an object need to be entirely new in order to be “original”? The rugs also demonstrate Abloh’s interest in wordplay. In this case, the disjunction between the texts and the rugs’ appearance provokes viewers to question what they are seeing—and what it communicates.

Chicago Install View Pile Virgilabloh 20190607 0106 O4.jpg


Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
Nike, manufacturer
American, established 1964
Nike shoes on tarp
Private collectionIn 2017, Nike enlisted Abloh to redesign ten of the company’s most famous shoe styles. Abloh used collaged elements, transparent materials, self-referential labels, tabs, and zip ties to emphasize the shoes’ construction, inviting people to take a second look at these iconic sneakers. This display features unreleased shoes from subsequent collaborations between Off-White and Nike in various stages of prototyping. These objects under construction offer a behind-the-scenes view of Abloh’s design process, which involves working through many concepts and iterations of a project before reaching the final result.

Chicago Installation View Shoes Virgilabloh 20190607 0105 O4.jpg

A Series of Events, 2019

Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
A Series of Events, 2019
Private collectionAbloh explored multiple techniques in this series of ceramic works. The vessels are heavily textured, revealing a delicate handmade quality, while the ceramic chains appear clean, industrial, and strong. This eclectic recombination of styles can be seen across Abloh’s recent designs for Off-White and bags for Louis Vuitton.

Chicago Install View Virgilabloh 20190607 0089 O4.jpg

Gradient chairs, 2019

Virgil Abloh
American, born 1980
Gradient chairs, 2019
Painted metal and chrome
Private collectionAbloh’s studio Alaska Alaska created these chairs as part of an experiment in designing furniture for the home. They embody a key principle in Abloh’s design philosophy: transparency. The open frame, inspired by the aesthetics of German modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, exposes the rational distribution of weight and leaves the gridded structure in plain sight.

Gradient Chair 2 O4.jpg

This twenty — year survey shows how I am constantly looking for a way to transform myself from consumer to producer, navigating a path between Tourist and Purist, between the literal and the figurative.

Virgil Abloh

About the Artist

Virgil Abloh poses seated on a wooden staircase.

Photo by Katrina Wittkamp.

Virgil Abloh (American, born 1980) has made a career of questioning assumptions and subverting expectations.
Raised in the Chicago area, Abloh trained as an architect but found his calling as a fashion designer. Since then he has continued to work across disciplines, collaborating with graphic and furniture designers, musicians, and contemporary artists, as well as other fashion designers. In undertaking projects in new fields, he not only influences the conversations within them but also expands their traditional audiences, reaching millions through social media.

“Church & State”

“Church & State” is an extension of the Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” exhibition. Building on his fame and dominance in streetwear culture, Abloh created the “Church & State” pop-up store to present special collection pieces that commemorate important moments in the lifecycle of his brand.

“Church & State” features pieces from the brand Pyrex Vision, Abloh’s first foray into fashion, along with a limited number of signature Off-White pieces, furniture from his studio Alaska Alaska, and special-edition gear created for the show.

Abloh enlisted trusted collaborators including Tremaine Emory to co-create limited-edition hoodies and T-shirts emblazoned with “FOS” (“Figures of Speech”) that are only available at the High’s exhibition.

Visit “Church & State” after your tour of the exhibition to see the most recent iterations of Abloh’s juncture between art and fashion.




WABE | “Virgil Abloh’s Popular ‘Figures of Speech’ Exhibit Comes to the High”
Creative Loafing
 | “Fall Arts Preview 2019”
Atlanta Journal Constitution | “The many talents of designer Virgil Abloh on display at the High”
ArtsATL | “”Figures of Speech” at the High Museum “tells the story arc of my career,” says Virgil Abloh”
Hypebeast | “Virgil Abloh Opens “Figures of Speech” Exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art”
Atlanta Magazine | “From Yeezus to Nike: Your guide to the High Museum’s Virgil Abloh exhibition”
Visionary Artistry Magazine | “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech”

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The exhibition tour is made possible by Kenneth C. Griffin.
This exhibition is designed by Samir Bantal, Director of AMO, the research and design studio of OMA.
This exhibition is made possible by

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor

Exhibition Series Sponsors

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters

The Antinori Foundation
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporter

Anne Cox Chambers Foundation

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters

Tom and Susan Wardell
Rod Westmoreland

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters

Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
W. Daniel Ebersole and Sarah Eby-Ebersole
Peggy Foreman
Robin and Hilton Howell
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust

Generous support is also provided by

Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.