The Double Genius of Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh at Paris Fashion Week Paris Fashion Week photo of Mr. Abloh

Mr. Abloh starts the narrative from the end by focusing on the perception and how he eschews the norm through relentless authenticity and blatant disregard for negative criticism, otherwise dubbed the “haters”. The archetype he’s crafted feels a bit forced and cliche to me, but the other visitors fall straight into the trap and see a bit of Abloh in themselves. I keep walking.

The next exhibit feels a bit gross and familiar. To the back left walls are two unassuming clothing racks with a line of t-shirts demonstrating the pop-cultural, meme based influences from which Mr. Abloh sprung. Pyrex 23, Lewis Vutton, and various classical paintings overlayed with sans-serif quotes. The shirts all contain a sense of irony only possible from a kid raised in the internet era who derives pleasure from stomping on value, stripping meaning and seriousness away from the industry, relishing in the ability to take everything as a joke, because to be serious means to feel something for a change. The t-shirt exhibit was commercial, simple, and outright trash. Yet, there still exists an appeal I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m a product of the internet era myself and share the rebellious spirit that we share, but I was hoping for an avenue of expression that is even slightly more profound than anything I can find on the comments section of classical pieces posted on Reddit. Disappointed,  I keep walking.

Next, I’m met with a giant homage of the oft-berated Yeezus album. To compare Kanye to Mr. Abloh would be disingenuous. Kanye began with an instant masterpiece and appeal that slowly eroded overtime as he climbed down the ladder of quality to the lowest rungs of commercialization, while Mr. Abloh appears to be starting where Kanye has ended. We never questioned if Kanye was talented, while the same can’t be said for Mr. Abloh, who we often debate if the talent ever existed. Despite the obvious misgivings of Mr. Abloh’s work, the Yeezus album cover he’s crafted allows me to take a step closer to recognizing his talent. I stop short of using the g-word, but the masterful work of his next exhibit lets it accidentally let it slip out, “GENIUS”.

As a part of his Louis Vutton men’s line, Mr. Abloh puts in the center of his ad a midnight complexion baby named Anyieth, in front of a dreary gray background. In the baby’s hands are presumably expensive pieces of luggage that can easily be mistaken for toys. The unfiltered joy coming from the child is apparent in his unabashed smile as he puts his colored pencils inside the translucent, bright red luggage. Louis Vutton happens to be there, but what’s more important is the innocence and joy of the little black boy. In what would have been considered unfathomable not long ago, Mr. Abloh has put blackness at the center of one of the premier fashion houses in the world. He’s deconstructed the mystic and divine gates of fashion, turning them into mere toys for a child to play with. Impressed, I keep walking.

I stumble into a small, dark room with a projector playing on loop. A mini-doc of Abloh runs through as the museum guests sit in silence. Mr. Abloh drones on a bit about his disregard for “art” or “gatekeepers”, personifying the outside stance that he briefly introduced in the initial quote. The cliché personality he’s created for himself is a bit of a turn-off but there’s a flash of brilliance in his words, a hint of authenticity. Mr. Abloh speaks of the barriers often created that separate the worlds of art, street, culture, and fashion. He shows an underdog’s disdain for the walls the insiders build to delude themselves into believing their own superiority. The mission of Mr. Abloh appears as a socioeconomic inevitability of an increasingly divided society. He cares less of what the world is, and more about how it should be.

As I finish the documentary I find my cynical side being overpowered by a bit of optimism. The origins of Mr. Abloh feel like careless creations meant to supplant creativity with controversy, a technique that’s all too common in the Youtube generation. However, unlike many artists Mr. Abloh does not seek fame and controversy for the sake of it. In his later works he’s begun to demonstrate a bit more authenticity and care for the context in which he creates. As his platform has grown, he’s filled the space with more art and less appropriation. Mr. Abloh, the provocative t-shirt guy, is Mr. Abloh the creative genius, fashion designer, and artist director of Louis Vutton’s mens readyware line.

W.E.B DuBois coined the term double-consciousness, used to describe the alternative lens that black people in america see themselves as and the separate identity they create for themselves for self-preservation in a society otherwise hostile to blackness. As a black artist, there are multiple racial lenses through which society will view your mode of expression. Many commercial artists, aka sellouts, often forget their roots and create solely for a commercialized environment, self-immolating their identify for the sake of something more, ironically destroying their ties to both their authentic and commercial bases, Virgil Abloh is a rare exception to the commercial ascension. Through his work he’s demonstrated full awareness of the black and white demographics whose eyes intensely focus on every stroke of the brush. Yet, Mr. Abloh is able to continue to create and design a wide-range of work that appeals to both. Walking through the exhibit it feels as if two different artists are at play, one aimed at provocation while another striving toward mass-enlightenment. The true beauty of Mr. Abloh is that he’s fully capable of both inducing panic among the bourgeois and appealing to them at the same time. When Mr. Abloh creates, the question to ask isn’t if he’s a genius, the question to ask is which genius will we be getting this time.