The Bean – Chicago, October 2008
I expected a number of things when I went to Chicago last year. I expected a very big lake. I expected great Art Deco architecture. And I expected to re-enact the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where they go up the Sears Tower and lean their heads against the picture windows of the observation deck. And I was not disappointed in any of those expectations. What I did not expect was to fall head over heels in love with a piece of public art.
Cloud Gate, affectionately known as The Bean, stands in the northwest corner of Millennium Park (itself a corner of Grant Park) and was created by British-born artist Anish Kapoor and unveiled in 2004. It is an astonishing structure shaped roughly like a bean and consisting of a steel frame covered by a seamless polished stainless steel skin, inspired by the appearance of liquid mercury.
On the underside of the sculpture is the omphalos, an indentation whose mirrored surface provides multiple reflections of any subject situated beneath it. Luckily for me, the Bean was approximately a five minute walk from our apartment in Chicago. I discovered it on day one and went back for a visit every single day for two weeks. I took pictures at noon; I took pictures at dusk; with crowds; and before the crowds arrived. I marvelled at the changing reflections; at people’s reactions; and at my own reflection forming part of the sculpture, if only for a while.
There is no way that you can approach the Bean without smiling – it generates a childish sense of wonder and delight. And if that isn’t that great public art is all about, then I don’t know.
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