John Massey’s minimalist designs are back on State Street in the Loop for the rest of August.

Welcome to the latest installation of “Public Access,” where CityLab shares its favorite videos—old and new, serious and nutty—that tell a story about place.

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.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

  2. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  3. photo: a couple tries out a mattress in a store.
    Equity

    What’s the Future of the ‘Sleep Economy’?

    As bed-in-a-box startup Casper files for an IPO, the buzzy mattress seller is betting that the next big thing in sleep is brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

  4. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  5. Design

    Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years

    A different kind of wealth distribution in 17th-century Amsterdam paved the way for its quintessential home design.

×