Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
John Massey’s minimalist designs are back on State Street in the Loop for the rest of August.
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The boldly colorful series of Chicago posters and banners created in the late 1960s by John Massey trace their origins to the moment the young graphic designer saw Armin Hofmann and Josef Müller-Brockmann’s minimalist works at a 1953 conference in Aspen. Massey was then a student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who’d signed up to escort the famed Swiss designers in exchange for free admittance to the event. Once he saw their work, he decided he had to make something like it for his home city.
Eventually he did. In a recent interview with Art Design Chicago to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the minimalist banners that hung up on light posts in the Loop in 1968, Massey recalls saying to himself after Aspen, “Chicago should have a series of posters that change all the time … not only for the edification of people who live here but also the thousands of visitors.”
Organized by the Chicago Loop Alliance Organization, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Chicago Design Museum, Massey’s banners are back on State Street between Ida B. Wells Drive and Wacker Drive in a public art show called “The Shape of Chicago: John Massey’s 1968 Banners Revisited” from the first to the last day of August.
His most memorable posters, which commemorate various landmarks across Chicago, appear as timeless as anything Hoffmann and Müller-Brockmann ever made. And on State Street, the simple shapes and colors add a fresh layer of abstraction to a city that Massey, now 77, has never stopped being drawn to.