Reflections on Cloud Gate
Approaching Chicago’s 2nd most popular tourist attraction for the first time felt like I was closing in an some sort of alien craft. Cloud Gate’s giant, mirrored presence loomed large, but yet it looked like it could morph, float away or dissolve into a million tiny droplets at any given moment. Or maybe it was a pod straight out of a Doctor Who episode, sent down to collect information about the thousands of people who come from all over to stare into it, touch it or even smoosh their face into its shiny shell.
At first blush it seems too simple to really be called art, just a giant mirrored bean-like shape. But there’s more to the Bean than meets the eye. It’s immense but its reflective surface and the fact that it only touches the ground at two points, gives it an incredible visual lightness. In reality, Anish Kapoor‘s creation is anything but light. It’s a 110-ton, 33′ by 60’ elliptical sculpture of stainless steel plates welded together with almost invisible seams, polished into a mirrored finish. Every day, twice a day the lower six feet are wiped down by hand to erase the many hand, nose, ear and other prints left by visitors. Twice a year the whole thing gets a bath in Tide. It seems we can’t keep our hands off the Bean.
It’s simple but captivating. The Bean is undeniably seductive. It’s not something you can look at just from a distance. Its mirrored curvy surface and arch beg you to get closer, to interact with it. And people do. They wave at it (to identify themselves from a distance). They make silly faces. They hug it. They bounce around and watch their reflection grow and shrink. It’s one giant fun house mirror. Once you pass under the central arch, you’re enveloped in a silvery canopy where sounds echo and the city skyline is mostly blocked from view. It’s a little micro world belonging only to you and the distorted reflections of those near you.
Just like Chicago, the Bean is always changing. With every passing cloud or change in weather what you see is different. No two experiences are quite the same and I just couldn’t get enough of it. After spending a good amount of time there on my first day in Chicago, I had to go back. The Bean appears aloof somehow yet at the same time begs you to come play with it. I’ve always said that I’m like a magpie, attracted to shiny things and Cloud Gate is the ultimate shiny thing.
Have you been to Chicago? What did you think of Cloud Gate?