Brooklyn Museum Special Exhibit for an Iconic Artist
Entrance to the Brooklyn Museum — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
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With its array of museums and galleries, New York City is a treasure trove for art lovers. Many culture vultures never stray far from Manhattan Island. However, those who venture across the river to nearby Brooklyn will be handsomely rewarded. The venerable Brooklyn Museum opened here in 1897, before the borough was even part of New York.
Housed in a spacious Beaux-Arts structure along leafy Prospect Park, there’s plenty of room for social distancing among the encyclopedic collection of around 1.5 million works. Familiarize yourself with his latest blockbuster exhibition, Virgil Abloh: ‘Figures of Speech’ and the permanent collection when planning your visit.
Virgil Abloh: “Figures of speech”
Examples of streetwear abound — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
This multimedia exhibition takes a deep dive into the work of pioneering artist and designer Virgil Abloh, who died of a rare form of cancer in November 2021. Best known as artistic director of menswear at French fashion house Louis Vuitton and from his own label Off-White, the show pays homage to Abloh, who successfully challenged established rules by bridging streetwear and high fashion.
It’s an interdisciplinary celebration of her creativity across the spectrum of art, music, architecture, fashion and beyond, showcasing over two decades of her work. Although a posthumous exhibition, Abloh actively participated in almost every aspect, until his untimely death at age 41.
The “Social Sculpture” is a life-size house
“Social Sculpture” at Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Style” — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Drawing from Abloh’s training as an architect, a large-scale wooden house, “Social Sculpture”, is a focal point.
Built to counter the lack of space given to black people and black artists in cultural institutions, it is used for gatherings and events not typically found in museums. A strong rotating lineup of programs and public workshops aligns with Abloh’s deep commitment to community, its fundamental desire to include a wide range of people in the conversation, and its belief that the exchange of ideas inspires creation.
“Social Sculpture” invites all museum visitors to enter and explore from within, challenging the traditional concept of viewing art from a distance.
Streetwear and couture collide
Streetwear and couture collide — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Abloh is best known as a clothing designer, and fashion looms large, right down to special t-shirts and green trainers designed for security personnel. There are plenty of hoodies and denim side by side with spectacular dresses.
Sneakers are works of art
Sneakers on plywood — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Brightly colored sneakers are displayed on custom-made plywood tables that can be seen as a metaphor for a runway show. Videos of Abloh’s gripping fashion shows and a dynamic soundtrack add powerful dimensions to an already nuanced exposition.
Trade and art intersect
Art and commerce mesh in the exhibition shop — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Abloh’s work unapologetically fused art and commerce, making little distinction between the two. The exhibition store, Church & State, functions as an extension of the exhibition, further blurring the lines by reinterpreting the cultural impact and meaning of streetwear. Eye-catching new merchandise comes out regularly, attracting fans eager to visit multiple times when they shop for a piece of fashion history.
The permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum
An extensive collection of decorative arts make up the Visible Storage exhibit — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Before or after visiting Virgil Abloh: ‘Figures of Speech’, take time to explore the rest of the museum.
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is dedicated to raising awareness of the feminist voice and her contributions to the art world. The centerpiece is “The Dinner Party”, a landmark installation by artist Judy Chicago. It consists of a massive ceremonial banquet with 39 covers at a triangular table, each commemorating an important woman in history and elevating female achievement to a height once reserved for men.
Egyptian galleries are internationally respected. With over 1,200 objects, there’s plenty to see. Of particular significance is the Mummy Chamber, where rituals related to mummification and the Egyptian belief that the body must be preserved to ensure eternal life are explored.
The decorative arts collection touches on a wide range of schools from the 17th century to the present day, reflecting on changes in domestic life and design. A domed Tiffany lamp with a band of dragonflies frolicking around the rim is one of the highlights. Head to the 5th floor for the Visible Storage and Study Center, where thousands of American-made decorative objects are kept in visible storage, offering a glimpse into the breadth of the museum’s collections.
The Luce Center for American Art challenges visitors to re-examine what constitutes “American” art as it addresses the inequalities in our country. Once-dominant narratives of Western art are challenged in a thought-provoking way that can spark complex conversations. One of the galleries was developed in partnership with the Lenape people, the original inhabitants of Brooklyn, who lived in the area for thousands of years before the colonizers.
Interior of the Brooklyn Museum — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway. It’s easily accessible by subway on the 2/3 line to the wheelchair-accessible Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum station. Other subway lines will also take you nearby, including the B/Q to Prospect Park station and the 4/5 to Franklin Avenue/Botanic Garden station.
The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Masks are optional.
Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” lasts until January 29, 2023 and requires a timed ticket.