The Chicago Bean: How the Idea of a Cloud Became Something Entirely Different

by Diana I

The Cloud Gate

When you take a walk around Chicago’s lakefront, you’ll find numerous landmarks to enjoy. One of the most famous is called the “Cloud Gate,” although most residents call it something entirely different.

It’s lovingly known today as The Chicago Bean.

You can find this artwork display in Chicago’s Millennium Park. It has a distinctive silver polish to it, allowing you to get a reflective look at the city and the lakefront while taking your picture in front of it.

This rounded structure was created by Sir Anish Kapoor using 72 stainless steel plates that were carefully placed to produce the circular form you see today.

Kapoor said that the goal was to make something that would draw people through the gateway underneath. By exploring the entire shape, an interactive experience could get created for each visitor.

When you visit the Cloud Gate at night, 100,000 LED lights create an impressive illumination. The artist says that the reflected light and beauty make it a powerful sculpture. Even though people call it a bean because of its shape, this spot is one of the best places for people to gather in Chicago.

It’s where everyone comes to meet friends, perform, take a selfie, or even get married. When you visit the sculpture, you’re in charge of your own destiny.

Chicago Bean - The Cloud Gate
Chicago Bean – The Cloud Gate

How the Chicago Bean Got Built

It took nearly a year to complete the installation of the Cloud Gate. Since the sculpture was in the heart of the old Central Business District, the city required Kapoor to dig into the soil to give the product a firm foundation.

The work on the project started in November 2003. It was opened to the public for the first time in August 2004. The 110-ton item sits on top of a 26-foot concrete foundation that’s also 48-feet wide. It wouldn’t be entirely finished until 2006.

Although they had access to advanced building technologies, the workers who installed the Chicago Bean had to discover a unique way to cut the stainless steel for the product. They used a laser-guided 3D laser cutter to shape 30 metal panels.

They also used special saws to cut oversized panels that would fit over the surface. The initial installation took about 100 hours to complete, but several weeks of work were done to smooth out all of the wrinkles to create a polished surface.

Workers must clean the sculpture twice per day to ensure the reflectivity remains. It’s not just fingerprints that are a problem on the Cloud Gate. Many of the park’s resident birds love to sit on or fly over the object, leaving their droppings behind.

In total, the Chicago Bean uses 500,000 pounds of steel to create a memorable viewing experience. There are also 180,000 pounds of concrete, 4,000 linear feet of cables, and 500 linear feet of granite blocks used for its construction.

Inside the Bean
Inside the Bean – Credit Millennium Park Foundation

About the Artist of the Cloud Gate

Sir Anish Kapoor specializes in conceptual and installation art. Although he was born in Mumbai, he has lived and worked in London for over 40 years. He moved to the city to study art at Hornsey before moving to the Chelsea School of Art and Design.

Kapoor became known in the 1980s for creating biomorphic and geometric sculptures. He originally used plaster, marble, and granite to create simple, curved forms. Once created, pigment powder would get added to give it a unique appearance.

That work would eventually land him a high-profile exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1979.

Beginning in 1995, Kapoor started working with polished surfaces to create unique reflections. He primarily used stainless steel for these items, including the Chicago Bean. From Sky Mirror installations to works that explore the ways red wax can get used, he is constantly pushing the envelope on what is possible.

During a 60-second promo video in 2018, the National Rifle Association used the Cloud Gate image without permission. Kapoor sued for damages, and the parties eventually settled out of court to remove the image from the video.

In addition to Cloud Gate, Kapoor has works called Turning the World Upside Down in Israel and Orbit in London, with both items notable for interacting with the public.

Kapoor says that mercury inspired the Cloud Gate, but that he also thinks about the mythical wonders of the world.

Chicago Bean in Colors
Chicago Bean in Colors – Credit Millennium Park Foundation

What Are the Benefits of Public Art Like the Cloud Gate?

Although public art displays can cost significant sums, they also create lasting values that must receive consideration.

Chicago’s Cloud Gate was finished for $23 million. It is 66 feet long, 42 feet wide at its greatest point, and draws people to the area every day. When you see what people are excited about visiting in the city, the Bean is almost always on that list.

The Cloud Gate is part of an overall complex that began developing in the northwest corner of Grant Park in 1997. The renovation cost for that area reached $475 million when the final elements were revealed in 2004.

Even with the expenses considered, the dividends that the city receives are massive. Here are some of the benefits to think about when evaluating public art.

1. Public art is accessible to everyone. It’s not confined to a museum, gallery, or a wall at a wealthy mansion. If you want to contemplate what the construction means, you’re welcome to explore it whenever you want.

2. Art installations work to enrich our physical environment. They bring plazas, parks, buildings, and urban streetscapes to life.

3. When public art is available, it works to build social capital. Even though we all have different priorities and preferences, these places let us come together in unique ways to encourage more civil discourse.

4. Public installations provide professional opportunities for today’s artists. Their work can inspire others to pursue the different styles and methodologies they enjoy using to create something new.

5. Local art installations can boost the local economy. Some people travel to specific cities to see the various displays that are open to the public. By putting money into these efforts, we’re creating placemaking opportunities that enhance the quality of life while producing higher levels of community pride.

6. Public art can help to connect citizens to their neighbors. It creates a shared history that gets celebrated, producing a unique cultural heritage that allows everyone to belong. With this diverse energy available, creativity can improve morale, respect, and productivity.

7. Art creates a supportive learning environment. The goal is to open eyes and minds to new ideas while promoting specific concepts, such as mutual respect or environmental stewardship.

The Bean covered in snow
The Bean covered in snow – Credit Millennium Park Foundation

Over 200 Million People Have Visited the Chicago Bean

The reason why the Cloud Gate sculpture is so popular is because of its inclusiveness. When you see yourself reflected on its surface with everyone else all around, the experience makes it feel like you are part of a larger community.

That’s why many people have adopted the sculpture as something meaningful. Even if your goal is to relax in the park on a lovely day with a book, you can have confidence knowing that the experience is waiting for you there.

As the artist says, her work is a “democratic object in a space that’s free and open to all.”

It’s fair to say that the Chicago Bean is a fantastic representation of modern engineering and design. That inclusivity reflects the community directly, making it a memorable part of the country’s public art installations.

In an era when hate crime against minorities is increasing and violence is on the march, it’s nice to know that you have a place to go for peace, relaxation, and understanding. When you visit the Cloud Gate, you’ll have an expectation of what the experience will be like for everyone.

Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate – Credit Marriott



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