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 he delivered at Harvard University in 2017. This comes as no surprise: a lifestyle of photoshoots, good-looking models, access to celebrities, and fame is more attractive to 20-year-olds today than lonely contemplation in a paint-filled studio. Warhol’s Pop Art has become Abloh’s Street Wear.

When streetwear enters the white cube, it takes on the form of a pop-up exhibition. It functions within the same vocabulary as a regular exhibition, using glass cubes, pedestals, carefully curated and placed garments instead of artworks. Often times the designer himself is present to sign autographs, take photographs or screen-print limited edition T-shirts on-site. In this setting, the designer functions like an artist at his solo exhibition: gathering attention from the press and performing an act of creation in front of a fan crowd. These types of events are held in prestigious gallery addresses in the heart of a major city’s artistic hub. Perhaps the most extreme example is the recent February 2018 exhibition held at London’s respected Gagosian Gallery showing a special ‘pop-up-esque’ collaboration between Abloh and Takashi Murakami, art world megastar. The chosen exhibition title, Future History reveals the ephemeral yet instantaneous buzz of the whole enterprise. Before this Gagosian show, Abloh had a series of meet-and-greet events in late 2017. Held throughout the world, these events were sponsored by Nike and Off-White to promote the two brands' latest sneaker collaboration. One of these events was held last October at Dover Street Market Ginza, one of Tokyo’s best fashion destination. Standing a table, signing sneaker after sneaker, Abloh's aura was both approachable and highly calculated. 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. 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 backstage of fashion shows, 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.

#japan #eastasia

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