As Hip Hop celebrates five decades of innovation, influence, and music, “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” is showcasing its place at the intersection of fashion, technology, and culture to fans around the globe. Co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM), this exhibition is years in the making and focuses on how Hip Hop grew out of grassroots community engagement and what it means to artists today.
To create this milestone exhibition, a team of curators from the BMA and SLAM selected iconic Hip Hop-related objects across painting, sculpture, photography, video, fashion, and more. Top of their list? The “Arby’s hat.”
“We were fascinated by the connections between the hat’s designer, Vivienne Westwood, and her partner Malcolm McClaren whose hip hop group, The World’s Famous Supreme Team, wore the hat in the 1980s. When Pharrell Williams wore the hat during the 2014 Grammy Awards, social media exploded awareness of the design’s likeness to Arby’s logo, leading the brand to purchase it. And now Pharrell is the Men’s Creative Director of Louis Vuitton,” says Asma Naeem, the Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director for the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The hat officially came to Arby’s after Pharrell Williams auctioned it off in 2014 to support his charity, From One Hand to AnOTHER, which develops learning programs for underserved youth between the ages of 7 and 20. Since then, the brand has showcased the piece in Inspire’s Atlanta Global Support Center, until the BMA’s specialized handling team arrived this spring to transport the hat to its new temporary home.
“When fans kept making the joke that he was wearing Arby’s logo at the Grammy’s, we couldn’t resist tweeting, ‘Can we have our hat back?’ to Pharrell. After it went up for auction in 2014, we knew we had to bring it home for Arby’s to display on the brand’s floor,” says Inspire Chief Communications Officer Chris Fuller. “And now it gets to be displayed in a whole new way in so many new places through ‘The Culture.’ We’re excited to be part of its story.”
Arby’s hat will be featured in “The Culture” global tour to Germany, Ohio, and Canada alongside artistic interpretations of the viral accessory from St. Louis and Baltimore-based creators. “We hope this exhibition allows visitors – both art and Hip Hop enthusiasts – to see how truly multifaceted Hip Hop culture is,” says Asma.
“Hip Hop has had a profound impact on contemporary art and life,” says Asma. “In the past 50 years, Hip Hop has expanded from a movement born out of the experiences of Black and Latinx youth in the Bronx to become an undeniable global force, exerting influence on music, fashion, technology, the performing arts, and of course, contemporary visual art.”
To learn more about “The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century,” visit the Baltimore Museum of Art at artbma.org or slam.org, where the exhibition opens August 19. Love the look? Get your own Arby’s hat via the Arby’s Shop.