Is Streetwear a New Movement of Contemporary Art?

- By Sophie Arni

“Kids these days are more interested in fashion than art,” said Virgil Abloh in a lecture delivered at Harvard University in 2017. This comes as no surprise: a lifestyle of photoshoots, fashion weeks, front-row celebrities, and Instagram followers is more attractive to 20-year-olds today than lonely contemplation in a paint-filled studio.

Virgil Abloh signing shoes at Dover Street Market Ginza, October 2017

Streetwear, as a luxury and sought-after commodity, is a form of creative expression that gradually took many codes and vocabulary from the high-brow art world. Nowadays, when streetwear enters the white cube, it takes on the form of a pop-up exhibition. It exists within the same physical confines as a regular exhibition: using glass cubes, pedestals, and carefully curated garments. Often times the designer himself is present to sign autographs, take photographs, or screen-print limited edition T-shirts. In this setting, the designer functions like an artist at his solo exhibition, gathering attention from the press and performing a site-specific creative act in front of a fan crowd. These types of events are held in prestigious gallery addresses in the heart of major cities’ artistic hubs. Perhaps the most telling example is the recent February 2018 exhibition at London’s Gagosian Gallery showcasing a special ‘pop-up’ collaboration between Abloh and Takashi Murakami. The chosen exhibition title, Future History reveals the ephemeral yet instantaneous buzz of the whole enterprise. Arguably the one who prompted this ‘streetwear exhibition’ trend was Kanye West with his series Pablo Pop-Up Shops. In 2016, he orchestrated seven different pop-ups in seven different cities throughout the world, at the same time. What resulted was a social media frenzy, and lines after lines of fans and ‘hypebeasts’ queuing up simultaneously from Berlin to Los Angeles. Has Andy Warhol’s Pop Art transformed into Virgil Abloh’s Street Wear? Contemporary artists are often secluded in their own bubbles, and that’s what streetwear aims to break. By creating its own platform online, accessible to all with a smartphone, this movement might seem like the most interactive and accessible the art world has yet seen. Abloh’s Instagram is arguably a 24/7 gallery, which transports viewers from city to city, from DJ sets to ateliers and fashion shows backstages, always framed with his signature quotation marks.

Abloh claims that Streetwear is the artistic movement defining our generation. Time can only tell if his projections are right.

This article was amended for web publication. The original is published inside Global Art Daily Magazine Issue 01, 'Street Futures', Spring 2018, Tokyo.

Unless specified otherwise, all images are taken by Sophie Arni at the exhibition venue.

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