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A Landmark Chicago Intersection, Reborn With 76K Square Feet of Vinyl

The city of broad shoulders gets a dash of color. Several thousand dashes, actually.

The intersection of State and Adams Streets is one of the busiest in Chicago. It’s a focal point in the city: advertising execs disappear into towers along its edges, lawyers dash to the nearby courthouse, students from at least three schools filter by, and of course, tourists pass through from Millenium Park a block east. But compared to the architectural fireworks going off nearby (Mies and Louis Sullivan are just blocks away), State and Adams is… a little drab. That must be why Jessica Stockholder chose the intersection as the stage for her latest piece, Color Jam, which also happens to be the largest public art project the city has ever seen.

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The renowned artist, who became the chair of the visual arts department at University of Chicago in 2011, unveiled the summer-long installation on June 5th. “I wanted to fill the intersection with color,” she told The New York Times. “To have a presence at this busy site that could withstand all the cars and trucks and people and at the same time interact with them.” Stockholder and her team used commercial vinyl–the kind used to make signage–to blanket the four corners of the intersection in long-lasting swaths of red, green, and blue.

The Chicago Loop Alliance, who commissioned the work, have set up a webcam for those of us who can’t be in the Loop (so to speak). Even viewing Color Jam remotely, it’s clear that no urban infrastructure was spared from Stockholder’s blasts of poppy color, which blanket lamp posts, curbs, facades and payphones. The tones seem to bleed from each corner of the intersection, mixing in the crosswalks. Ultimately, says her team, it’s enough vinyl to make 50,000 records.

Stockholder calls the piece a “three-dimensional painting,” and says the idea was to disrupt (at least for a passing moment) the relentless energy of Chicago’s streetscape. “Part of me would like to make stuff that’s minimal, and very well organized, and clean, and comprehensible,” she told PBS in 2005. “But I love the chaos, that’s why I do it.”

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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