Cloud Gate (“The Bean”), 2004
East of North Michigan Avenue, on axis with East Washington Street
Often it is difficult to predict how the public will respond to an innovative, large-scale work of art. It is even more difficult to imagine which work of public art, among the many located in a place like Chicago, might emerge as the “icon” of the city. Following the opening of Millennium Park, the one thing about which most Chicagoans would agree is that Cloud Gate, better known locally as “The Bean,” has replaced “The Picasso” as the unofficial symbol of Chicago. Even architect Frank Gehry, who designed the nearby Pritzker Pavilion, declared of Cloud Gate: “That’s the star of the show.”
Artist Anish Kapoor was born in India in 1954 and has worked in London since the 1970s. Remarkably, Cloud Gate is his first outdoor permanent installation in the United States. Inspired, in part, by liquid mercury, the massive stainless steel structure is affectionately called “The Bean” due to its elliptical, kidney-bean shape. Deceptively simple in concept and form, Cloud Gate plays with the notion of a “triumphal arch” or “gateway” to a city in a manner that corresponds to the whimsical approach to a “fountain” demonstrated in Jaume Plensa’s nearby Crown Fountain. Abandoning any militaristic or nationalistic sentiment, Kapoor’s 33-foot high, 66-foot long sculpture features a twelve-foot high arch that invites viewers to pass through, gaze upward and encounter images of themselves rather than heroic figures from history. The artist has stated that he is “interested in how sculpture activates space” and believes that “big objects can do something poetically wondrous.” The reflective surfaces offer a variety of experiences, depending upon one’s perspective, the weather and the time of day. The sculpture does, in fact, allow for contemplation of clouds, as well as an incredible panorama of the architecture along Michigan Avenue. Nighttime viewing offers different rewards, in terms of color and light. The 110-ton structure manages to appear almost weightless, in part because it only touches the ground in two places.
Acclaimed as both an aesthetic achievement and an engineering feat, the 168 stainless steel plates used to construct the surface required 2200 lineal feet of continuous welding. Not surprisingly, Cloud Gate received “The Extraordinary Welding Award” from the American Welding Society. The realization of this piece required an extraordinary collaborative effort, including the contributions of engineer Christopher Hornzee-Jones, Ethan Silva of Performance Structures, the company that fabricated the plates, Roark Frankel, supervisor of the project, and MTH industries, which assembled the piece. Additionally, the final price tag for the project was nearly four times the initial estimate of $6 million, but the entire cost of the work was covered by corporate and private donations.