Virgil Abloh’s institutional debut at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston is a survey and celebration of his career to date. The exhibition, titled “Figures of Speech” features seventy of his designs including wine bottles, ready-to-wear clothing and furniture. The show surveys Abloh’s recent practice under the Contemporary label Off-White together with his work for Nike Golf, Louis Vuitton Women’s Ready to Wear and Men’s Shoes and Bags, and his eponymous fashion brand. A major solo exhibition has not been presented for the designer in a public institution since he was appointed chief creative officer at Louis Vuitton in March of 2018, which is an opportunity to see how Abloh’s practice has developed over the last six years. The high volume of work in the exhibition is an opportunity for the viewer to engage deeply with his practice.

Seen together, Abloh’s designs make up a new form of garment, a hybrid not exclusive to fashion but mixed from many mediums that together suggest both utilitarian and conceptual ideas. “Figures of Speech” suggests how Abloh’s work differs from his contemporaries, such as Demna Gvasalia and Alessandro Michele who have become synonymous with a particular look. Abloh works in an ever-expanding terrain where he draws on ideas from architecture, product design, painting and film to create a new hybrid language of form. This is evident in the way he combines the everyday into his work – for example using a pillbox hat as an object of desire, or applying gilding to out-of-date graphics on t-shirts.

The exhibition includes original paintings produced by Abloh and his assistants in 2018, which suggest different ideas about what constitutes painting today. The use of these ready-mades in his paintings expands the history of painting to include objects that were not traditionally considered art.