Cloud Gate is a large public sculpture which was first unveiled at the opening of Millennium Park in 2004. It soon became one of the city’s most photographed attractions, and is now one a famous symbol of Chicago. You haven’t really visited Chicago if you haven’t touched the ‘bean’.
Cloud Gate further cemented Chicago’s reputation as a city at the forefront of public art and follows in the footsteps of earlier well-known public installations such as Alexander Calder’s Flamingo at Federal Center, Picasso’s untitled sculpture at the City Hall and Jean Dubuffet’s Monument with Standing Beast at the James R. Thompson Center.
Even before it was given an official title, Chicagoans were quick to dub the reflective steel sculpture ‘the Bean’ after its peculiar shape, and the name stuck. The official name however is Cloud Gate as it represents a gate to the city it reflects.
Cloud Gate was the first public sculpture of Indian-born and London-based artist Anish Kapoor. His work was selected out of two proposals that were submitted in 1999 for a showpiece sculpture in the new, modern Millennium Park, which was scheduled to open in 2000.
Kapoor designed a stainless steel construction consisting of 168 plates, each 1 cm (0.4 inch) thick, and seamlessly welded together. The structure weighs 100 tons and measures 10 meters high and 20 meters wide (33 x 66 ft.). People can walk through the 3.7 meter high central arch, where they can look up to the large ‘dent’ and see numerous distorted reflections of themselves.
When the new Millennium Park was officially inaugurated in 2004 after a four-year delay, the city was eager to show the sculpture to the public, as it had spent the hefty sum of 23 million dollars on what was to become one of the highlights of the park.
Unfortunately, the assembly of the sculpture was well behind schedule and Kapoor was reluctant to unveil the unfinished artwork to the public. And not without reason; the structure was still unpolished, and the seams were visible.
As expected, many Chicagoans were highly critical and dismissed the unfinished ‘Bean’ as a piece of metal. After the inauguration of the park, the structure was put back under wraps. Not until it was completely finished in May 2006 became its almost magical appeal visible.
Now seamless and polished, the Cloud Gate reflects and distorts the skyline of Michigan Avenue, the sky, and the people nearby, who always seem to have the urge to touch the sculpture’s silvery surface. Cloud Gate instantly became an icon of Chicago, and an attraction that every visitor to the city wants to see – and touch.