Dezeen Magazine

Exterior of the Brooklyn Museum
Virgil Abloh exhibition at Brooklyn Museum includes a full-scale house

Virgil Abloh exhibition at Brooklyn Museum includes a full-scale house

The Brooklyn Museum has unveiled Figures of Speech, an exhibition of works by the late designer Virgil Abloh that includes Social Sculpture, a full-sized home placed inside the museum.

The exhibition is an iteration of Abloh's first solo show, which was originally organised in Chicago by Michael J Darling and had also been held in Doha.

The Brooklyn Museum's presentation was organized by writer and curator Antwaun Sargent and features over 100 works by Abloh, including many of his contributions to architecture, design and fashion.

Figures of Speech Brooklyn Museum
Figures of Speech was organised in Brooklyn by Antwaun Sargent

According to Sargent, the exhibition was planned before the pandemic and before Abloh passed away in November 2021. The designer had a special connection to New York, he said.

"New York had a special meaning for [Abloh], in the sense that it really was the place that he in some ways became the artist that we have come to know," Sargent told Dezeen.

Abloh wanted to reimagine the exhibition as distinct from the previous shows in Chicago and Doha.

Social Sculpture Virgil Abloh
The exhibition showcases a variety of Abloh's work across different disciplines

The Brooklyn Museum iteration of the show specifically highlights Abloh's contributions and commentary on the architectural practice, including early architectural sketches by the fashion designer, who initially trained as an architect.

"He surrounded himself with architects," noted Sargent.

The exhibition was built into the Brooklyn museum using new walls and utilizing existing columns in order to allow visitors to see Abloh's "spatial thinking as an architect and a designer," Sargent added.

Figures of Speech by Virgil Abloh
Social Sculpture is a full-scale house

Where previous iterations of the exhibition were designed by Samir Bantal, director of the research arm of Dutch studio OMA, the Brooklyn Museum's space was created by designer Mahfuz Sultan in collaboration with creatives from Alaska Alaska – Abloh's London-based design studio – as well as Lance Singletary of the Brooklyn Museum.

"[Abloh] builds around some of the fundamental aspects of the design aspects of the museum to incorporate thoughtfully into the exhibition itself," said Sargent.

Abloh Exhibition
Tables designed by Abloh showcase his fashion and design work in conversation

This approach is most apparent in Social Sculpture, a full-sized house built into the museum. The house sits at the heart of the exhibition and incorporates some of the museum's large, structural columns into its own structure.

The wood-clad home with a full gabled porch was meant as a space where artists and designers can come together and share inspiration, according to Sargent.

"The work is designed with the promise and principles of what the artist David Hammons once termed 'negritude architecture,' which he defined as 'the way Black people make things, houses or magazine stands in Harlem, for instance,'" the museum said.

"Abloh considered the sculpture a representation of Black space, a living monument that holds the potential, through the exchange of ideas, to inspire the creation of more Black space," it added.

Figures of speech Nike table
Abloh's extensive fashion collaborations are also on show

Though the exhibition is divided conceptually between Abloh's work in design, fashion and architecture, many of the objects are arrayed together.

Sargent said that this approach was meant to express Abloh's attempts to break down divisions and hierarchies in the creative industries.

Abloh Braun collaboration
"Functional Art" is Abloh's polished chrome version of Dieter Rams' 1965 Wandanlage wall-mounted stereo made for Braun. The photo is by Jonas Werner Photography courtesy of Gymnastic Art Institute and Virgil Abloh Securities

"I think, fundamentally, what Virgil was about was the breaking down of hierarchies in the creative disciplines to make sure that there were folks who had access that hadn't previously had access to different forms of making," said Sargent.

At the entrance to the exhibition are a few long tables, designed by Abloh, that display early sketches and works in architecture alongside fashion design prototypes and Abloh's forays into sound system design through his collaboration with consumer company Braun.

Near these tables is a model of Chicago – Abloh's hometown – with a proposed skyscraper based on Abloh's master's thesis in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2003.

The exhibition also showcases many of Abloh's collaborations, including work with sportswear brand Nike, furniture brand Ikea and celebrities such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Kanye West.

Abloh Figures of Speech exhibition
The exhibition will be the last stop for Figures of Speech

Taken together, Figures of Speech works as a holistic retrospective of Abloh's creative work. However, Sargent said that the Brooklyn Museum's show should be considered the last living work by Abloh, who passed away from a rare heart cancer in 2021.

Because Figures of Speech was in the works for years, Sargent said: "It is, in fact, not at all in that way a memorial, right? It really is a show by a living artist."

Several works have been released since Abloh's passing, including a number of products revealed at the recent Milan Design Week.

The designer also worked with automobile manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz, for which he designed a vehicle that incorporates solar power.

The photography is by Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum

Figures of Speech will be on show at Brooklyn Museum until 29 January 2023. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

More images

schematic of social sculpture
Schematic drawing of Social Sculpture. The photo is by Alaska Alaska
Figures of Speech by Virgil Abloh
Figures of Speech by Virgil Abloh