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The Boston Art Exhibit That’s Challenging the Status Quo

A fashion icon’s powerful art is making waves at the ICA.

You know that age-old question, “What is art?” Virgil Abloh answers by tossing the rule book out the window at his “Figures of Speech” exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Here, sneakers are art. So is a half-pipe, a concrete block covered in graffiti, a screenshot of a FaceTime call, and a fashion collection in which streetwear meshes seamlessly with luxury. They’re a culmination of Abloh’s years of observations on culture, and they speak loudly—especially to young and diverse audiences.

While probably best known as the current Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton menswear, Abloh defies categorization (in his own words, he’s “allergic to disciplines”). He’s also an architect, DJ, an artist, a fashion icon, and a graphic designer who’s done everything from creating album art for Kanye West to founding fashion brand Off-White.

But according to Abloh, he’s not making art for the accolades (which is perhaps what makes him so perfect for the job). He’s in it for others to find their own way.

“It’s made so that a 14-year-old kid comes in here and sees something they relate to,” Abloh said of his work to a panel at ICA before unveiling the exhibit. “And the light bulb goes off in their head and they’re like: I got it.”

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Virgil Abloh × ICA pop-up store “Church & State,” ICA/Boston.

In the room Black Gaze, a neon sign “You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place” glows over art that explores Black culture in the United States and specifically challenges the fashion industry’s exclusion of Black creators. Another striking piece: a piece of criticism from Abloh’s first fashion line used as a welcome mat for museum-goers to walk over.

The exhibit, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is open through Sept. 26, 2021. Abloh said Boston is a fitting spot thanks to its strong community.

“I like the idea of placing the exhibit here so it can sort of be a bridge to create a dialogue with the kids that are thinking about their own practice,” Abloh said.

INSIDER TIPIf you like Abloh’s work, check out the museum’s photo collaboration between the artist OJ Slaughter and ICA teens that is inspired by Abloh and the theme “breaking the rules.”

The museum’s surrounding neighborhood, Seaport, pairs well with the contemporary art experience. In the last few years, it has transformed from a sea of parking lots and industrial buildings into a trendy arts and culture hot spot.

After touring the museum, walk around to spot art installations and murals, community-driven events including pop-up shops, fitness classes on the green, and a monthly Black-Owned Boston Market. Dine at vogue restaurants like Committee (and traditional ones like Barking Crab), grab a coffee and a sticky bun at Flour, or drink in the views from the buzzy Lookout Rooftop and Bar at the Envoy Hotel. You’ll find the neighborhood—and the exhibit—are the best way to see Boston with new eyes.