April 7, 2011

Chicago’s Cloud Gate: a.k.a. “The Bean”

Filed under: JOURNAL,OP-ED,PHOTOGRAPHY,TRAVEL — carolyncholland @ 8:00 am



     Its simplicity belies its worth as a captivating sculpture.

     Yet, it holds intrigue, especially for photographers—which I fancy myself to be part of the time. This intrigue kept me captive on a cold, breezy, overcast early March day in Chicago, as I explored the massive silver structure with its circus-like reflections of the people and the city buildings. I had to wonder if the creator of this masterpiece knew the sculpture would entice so many persons, that it would become a destination point in the midst of the city.

     My husband Monte and I decided to spend several hours deep in the city of Chicago before we left the area to return to our Southwestern Pennsylvania home. We had come to the area for the Big Ten wrestling meet (Monte) and to meet and visit with my newly discovered sister, Darlene, both north of the city.

     Our daughter Sandy had visited the city the past July, and told us we needed to visit “the bean,” a mammoth silver sculpture on the north east side of Millennium Park. Sandy was right—I was drawn to the sculpture with my camera. I walked around it, looked at its different reflections, and shot as many views as I could in the time I was allowed. Where the sculpture met the graying sky, it became one with it. I wondered if the photographs would lose the shape of the sculpture due to the overcast conditions. I shot a couple of photographs of us reflected in The Bean. 


Self-portrait reflected in Cloud Gate, a Chicago sculpture


     “Aren’t you ready to leave yet? There’s more to see in the city. It’s cold,” Monte kept saying as I shoved his comments aside with my “trigger happy” finger. Snap. Snap. I was glad I had an empty card in my camera, because, from whatever angle the camera was recording, it could only partially comprehend the view. And there were many views.

Cloud Gate in ChicagoReflections in Cloud Gate in Chicago

Cloud Gate a.k.a "The Bean" in Chicago

     I also observed that others were doing the same—and more, interacting with the sculpture, creating inventive images and just having a fun time. Their engagement with the sculpture echoed mine, as several of us physically entered the art by walking under its belly (technically called the omphalos).

Cloud Gate's "omphalos" (Greek for "navel")


     Looking straight up into the fluid space almost made me need someone to hold me steady to prevent me from falling as I viewed the swirling image, then photographed it.

     When I arrived home I did my usual—surfed the ‘Net to learn about the sculpture.


     The official name of the sculpture is Cloud Gate, although it is popularly called The Bean. It was officially dedicated on May 15, 2006, although it was unveiled July 16, 2004. It is sixty-six feet long, thirty-three feet high, forty-two feet wide, and weighs one-hundred ten tons. Its final price tag was twenty-three million dollars, a cost funded from individuals and corporations, not from public funds.     According to to Anish Kapoor’s contract, Cloud Gate is expected to survive for a thousand years. Its lower six feet are wiped down, by hand, twice daily. The entire sculpture is cleaned twice a year.

     Cloud Gate’s construction posed concerns for Millennium Park. First was its weight, requiring supporting structures. That the sculpture was to be outdoors created special issues—would it retain and conduct heat in a manner that would make it be too hot to touch in the summer and “so cold that one’s tongue might stick to it during the winter?” Would extreme temperature variations weaken the structures? How would graffiti, bird droppings and fingerprints affect the aesthetics of the sculpture’s surface? And most challenging, how would the creation of a single seamless exterior on the external shell be created?


     The sculpture’s design was inspired by a drop of liquid mercury.

Cloud Gate in Chicago

     What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline … so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one’s reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around, said the Indian sculptor, Kapoor, who also has referred to the sculpture as a gate to Chicago, a poetic idea about the city it reflects.

     Kapoor’s art often aim(s) to evoke immateriality and the spiritual, as he questions and plays with such dualities as solidity–emptiness or reality–reflection, which in turn allude to such paired opposites as flesh–spirit, the here–the beyond, east–west, sky–earth, etc. that create the conflict between internal and external, superficial and subterranean, and conscious and unconscious. His works have no fixed identity, but rather occupy an illusionary space that is consistent with eastern theologies shared by Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, as well as Albert Einstein’s views of a non-three-dimensional world.


     That it is a photographer’s dream is confirmed by write-ups describing it as a “tourist magnet,” an “extraordinary art object,” and a destination sculpture. Rightly so, because it is fully interactive from all sides, its elliptical shape distorting and twisting the images it reflects, creating funhouse mirror pictures of the sky, city architecture, and people. Meandering under the belly of the sculpture offers a different view as individuals peer upwards to see their reflections in a spiral formation. Three-quarters of the sculpture’s external surface reflects the sky and the name refers to it acting as a type of gate that helps bridge the space between the sky and the viewer.

     However, all works of art are currently covered by the United States copyright law, by which the artist holds the copyright. Members of the public can freely photograph the work, but originally permission from Kapoor or the City of Chicago (which has licensed Kapoor’s work) was necessary for commercial reproductions of the photographs.  The current policy only requires permits for large-scale film, video and photography requiring ten-man crews and equipment.




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Hungarian Carnival in Darlington, PA

Banish Writer’s Block

Are We Computer Addicted? A 1997 Prediction

To Reclaim a Family Farm—Or Not

The Rev. Manasseh Cutler Visits Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia


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  3. […] Dyer realized other cities of similar size have iconic sculptures—for example, Chicago has Cloud Gate, commonly referred to as The […]

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