Exclusive: Virgil Abloh's MCA Exhibit By: Paige Darling and Alfonso Fernandez



In 2003 Virgil Abloh graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology, earning his Masters in Architecture. In his pieces, Abloh often uses contrasting colors to draw the audience’s attention, a technique repeated throughout his exhibit and other works. In a small room, a miniature replica of Chicago made out of Styrofoam was displayed on the floor, with the pink plastic building being the focal point. The pink building is a proposal for a skyscraper bending over the river, leaning away from the other high-rises.

Darling’s Interpretation: A common message of the exhibit is that instant gratification does not happen without dedication, art observer Micheal Chuna said. With hard work you will eventually get where you want or where you’re supposed to be. This message is employed in Abloh’s Master’s thesis. The building is meant to stand out in order to present itself as an item out of place, demonstrating that there is solace in straying from the norm in order to make your own path. The pink color and tilt of the building resembles a flower blossoming towards the sun, and with its bold shade the appearance symbolizes purpose and individuality.

Fernandez’s Interpretation: Once entering the room a big blue sculpture appeared in the corner while the other side of the room had two transparent chairs. At first the building appears insignificant to the other figures towering over it, but after close examination, it’s shape displays its originality from the other buildings. “I embrace imperfection as much as I embrace the pursuit of perfection,” Virgil Abloh tells the viewer in one of the videos displayed on the exhibit. This quote epitomizes his understanding that some embrace their differences while others pursue approval, and that both paths are valid. The curve in the buildings shape conveys it as modern and as the model arcs away, it displays the desire to be distant from the norm which displays Abloh’s theme about the “pursuit of perfection.” The physical features support this; the clashing colors and different material shows its distance from the norm. The model is a memorable part of the exhibit by giving the viewer a distinct view of chicago with two contrasting colors. The larger view of chicago is engaging towards the observer by offering different angles to look at, while the building bearing the contrasting color makes it captivating.

“Black Gaze”


A look into Abloh’s campaigns for Louis Vuitton as their Men’s Artistic Director. His work in fashion and comments on issues involving diversity and black people in art. As you enter the room a description on the wall writes, “This section presents Abloh’s fashion and artworks that reflect on the black cultural experiences in the United States.”

Darling Interpretation: My initial reaction to the room was pride because it seemed for the first time a black artist was being recognized and celebrated on a large scale for their work in fashion. It is a big accomplishment for a current black artist to be loved by fashion and art enthusiasts. To think that Abloh has plenty of work ahead of him causes even more excitement. Two pieces that stand out the most are “As Impossible” and “Options”. They are two prints of a young boy playing with Louis Vuitton bags and paper boats across from and 16 steel markers on the floor. “Options” is a reference to Laquan McDonald, a 17-year old black boy who was shot 16 times by a police officer. Through juxtaposition of these pieces he addresses colorism in fashion and black boys childhood that is often tainted by society’s harsh judgment. In my eyes the boy is looking into two versions of his future: a creative mind brimming with talent or another young black boy shot dead from senseless violence. Overall it feels as if Abloh is staking his claim as a black artist who will continue to stand up for his people.

Fernandez’s Interpretation: This room was one of the more compelling parts of the exhibit. My leading thought once entering the room was that it was complex. Yet every piece was honest with its purpose. The evidence markings upon the floor was eye-catching to the general audience; although not in the information card, the number of evidence markings alluded to the number of shots a police officer fired at Laquan Mcdonald. The two photos directly across from it was two large prints of a young boy playing with markers, and in the other with origami. The featured pieces connect to each other as it relates back to his off white campaigns that celebrates black artists, athletes, and musicians. With Abloh’s growing influence on a younger audience, this room is used to promote diversity in fashion and art.



An orangish-red screen projects a reel of phrases lasting about a minute before starting over. On the right a 14-minute spoken word is being played with records laying on the floor next to it. On the left, beams lie on the floor and a case displays diamond paper clip jewelry. This room is dedicated to his work in music.

Fernandez’s Interpretation: The red room is a mesmerizing area of the exhibit, with a huge screen that displayed a bright red video on loop, including captions at the bottom of the screen with no sound. To the right was yellow and black girders which were masked by the bright red screen. Behind the clear hanging strips was an enlarged CD case of Kanye West’s album,“Yeezus” which hinted at the musical inspiration in the room. The Red screen was the most interesting piece in the whole room because of two thought-provoking aspects. The beaming light is hypnotizing while the bottom text constantly changed. Each phrase gave viewers a different image to imagine while a consistent ray of bold red went into your eyes.

Darling’s Interpretation: The vivid and sensory overloading room with Abloh typical ironic phrasing, “BLUE” plastered on a plastic curtain,was my least favorite of them all. The orange screen covering one full wall is nauseating and overwhelming. This room shows the importance of intertwining music and collaboration. A repeated partner he works with is Kanye West, which he shows in a massive replica of Abloh’s design for West’s sixth album. This room helps solidifying Abloh as an innovative all around artist that can work in any medium.


The exhibit is an outstanding. The vast amount of diverse pieces makes it unique. It tells a chronological story through Abloh’s career displaying his achievements and creativity while also relating each room to 21st century culture today. The exhibit was a refreshing retrospective from a talented Chicagoan; who desired to inspire everyone from fellow Chicagoland artists to young and black creatives. In many areas of his exhibition it felt like he wanted to connect to his roots with graffiti displays, his older Pyrex fashion designs, and architectural builds.

“It was an example of possibility and manipulation of systems allowing you to see him as an artist not just designer,” museum patron Sean Beauford, said.

His work has always challenged thought and what we deem as possible. Pushing diversity and a space for everyone to be recognized. It is important to have a current body of work instead of seeing a retrospective when he is gone, art observer Tara Fay said.

“We have to appreciate black artist while we have them,” Fay said.

Created By
Nina Shearrill