The Chicago Bean

The Chicago Bean

The Bean, or Cloud Gate as it is officially called, is a permanent art installation at Millennium Park. The park is located in the heart of downtown Chicago and is home to several gardens, music and film festivals, events, sports and, of course, public art. The park was even almost originally named Garden of the Arts.

Before Millennium Park was inaugurated back in 2004, the space was used as a railroad and parking lot until Richard M. Daley (Chicago’s mayor at the time) came up with the idea for the park as his dentist’s office overlooked the space.

In 1997, planning for the park began and, two years later, a group of park officials, architects, art curators and collectors got together to review the work of 30 artists. Ultimately, two finalists were selected to submit a proposal for a permanent art installation – Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor.

Koons proposed to build a 46-metre glass and steel playground slide, with an observation deck at the top accessible via an elevator. However, in the end, Kapoor won with his proposal to create Cloud Gate – a sculpture inspired by liquid mercury.

After Kapoor won the design competition, experts quickly raised several concerns about the construction and maintenance of the sculpture. Many believed it not to be feasible and the sculpture’s construction fell behind schedule.

During its delayed construction, the media and the public began nicknaming the sculpture ‘The Bean’, a name that Kapoor at first hated and described as “completely stupid”. Once the construction was eventually completed, Kapoor officially named the sculpture Cloud Gate, as the surface reflected the sky and acted as a gate that you could walk through – connecting the space between the sky and the viewer. However, by then the nickname “The Bean” had already stuck and Kapoor ultimately grew fond of the name.

I first visited Chicago in February, around two years ago. I was flying a route from Warsaw to Chicago and, whilst still in Poland, I remember getting a message alert on my phone about the country’s first confirmed case of covid-19. I also remember not thinking much of it at the time.

So, still mask-free, I flew to Chicago, the Windy City – a city that lives up to its name. It was also snowing, so I got to see ‘The Bean’ with bits of ice glued to the surface, which further contributed to the winter wonderland feel of the park. It was fun walking around the sculpture taking photos of the different reflections of the city skyline and the surrounding park and I even walked underneath it and took a photo of my warped and multiplied reflection.

I first heard about Kapoor when I was studying art at university. Kapoor was working with Vantablack, a spray-paint also known as the “blackest black” in the world. The paint is one of the least reflective substances made by man and absorbs 99.6% of light that hits it. This means that 3D objects that are coated with the paint turn visually flat, losing any sense of shape as though you are looking into the void.

Kapoor was able to gain exclusive artistic rights to Vantablack, which brought him much criticism from the art world. In retaliation, the artist Stuart Semple created a pigment called the “pinkest pink”, which is available to everyone except Kapoor.

When purchasing the pigment online the following note appears: “By adding this product to your cart, you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief, this paint will not make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor.”

Kapoor later “illegally” purchased Semple’s pinkest pink and posted a photo on Instagram with his middle finger dipped in the pigment.

Kapoor has exhibited before in Portugal at the Serralves Foundation in Porto. The artist’s fascination with the void led him to create a piece called “Descent into Limbo”. The viewer enters a concrete room with a circular pit in the middle around two-and-a-half metres deep. The sides of the pit are painted black, so at first it appears solid but, when looking down, it feels like looking into an endless void.

The art installation also made headlines as a 60-year-old Italian man fell into the void whilst visiting the exhibition. He was rushed to the hospital where he recovered.

The British-Indian artist now has art installations all over the world, including a Sky Mirror in Nottingham, the Temenos sculpture in Middlesbrough and the Orbit Tower in Stratford that pays homage to the 2012 Summer Olympics hosted in London.

However, since in the UK people consume more baked beans than the rest of the world combined, ‘The Bean’ would have been better suited.

By Jay Costa Owen
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Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them. 

Walking underneath the Bean
The Chicago Bean
City skyline and park reflection