New Work: AIGA “Bright Lights! Big City” Awards
Pentagram partner DJ Stout and Lippincott’s Su Mathews, a former Pentagram Associate, co-chaired this year’s national AIGA Medalist gala, “Bright Lights! Big City”, held on April 19 at the historic Altman Building in New York. The annual event celebrates those whose creativity, inspiration, innovation and brilliant execution have defined graphic design. The AIGA Medal, the most distinguished honor in the profession, is awarded to designers who have set standards of excellence over a lifetime of work since 1920. This year’s honorees were Ralph Caplan, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Armin Hofmann and Robert Vogele.
Stout and his team at Pentagram Austin devised this year’s theme, “Bright Lights! Big City,” which drew inspiration from the Beaux Arts Ball, a costume party originating in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, or the School of Fine Arts, in 19th century Paris. The first Beaux Arts Balls featured extravagant allegorical floats that circled the Ecole’s ballroom and then were judged by a panel of designers at the end of the evening. Such rituals influenced the fathers of Modernism in New York City who began to stage similar soirees. One of the most famous of the annual events was held in 1931 when the architects of several iconic Manhattan skyscrapers, including the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, attended the ball dressed up as the very buildings they had designed.
“I’ve always been amused by those vintage black-and-white photographs with the partygoers dressed up like buildings,” says Stout. “That looked like one hell of a party! The name of last year’s gala was Bright Lights so we just suggested tagging on the words Big City—primarily so we could have fun with the Beaux Arts Ball motif.”
Attendees of this year’s medalist gala were encouraged to design and wear their own hats inspired by iconic buildings, or they could download a set of four architectural hat templates masterly designed by the Lippincott team. The Altman Building was transformed for the evening into a black-and-white homage to the 1931 New York City Beaux Arts extravaganza, with banners and large three-dimensional cutouts featuring buildings from around the world including the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Eiffel Tower, Seattle’s Space Needle, London’s “Gherkin,” Hong Kong’s Bank of China Tower and the Grossmünster in Zurich. Following the award ceremony revelers drank signature cocktails like Empire Statetinis and Eiffelinis, and posed for pictures in a composite cityscape photo-booth downstairs. A series of banner ads, invitations and the official gala program, designed by Stout and designer Cassandra Cisneros, continued the 1930s-era Art Deco theme.
Pentagram would like to thank Stephen Doyle, who graciously served as emcee for the evening, Su Mathews and her colleagues at Lippincott, Amy Chapman and the entire AIGA staff and congratulations to Ralph, Elaine, Armin and Robert.
Project Team: DJ Stout, partner-in-charge and designer; Cassandra Cisneros, designer.