It’s a lucky coincidence that Chicago’s Cloud Gate arrived around the same time as the selfie. In addition to being the kind of recognizable landmark made for Instagram travelogues, the 66-foot-long, 33-foot-tall, 110-ton reflective sculpture invites tourists with its funhouse-like mirrors and curves. Mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated “The Bean,” as it’s been dubbed, on May 15, 2006. Here are nine facts you might not know about this already iconic public sculpture.
1. IT WON OUT OVER JEFF KOONS'S GIANT SLIDE.
In 1998, Daley announced plans to turn railyards and parking space along the city shoreline into what’s now Millennium Park. In addition to a garden, fountain, and performance stage, project design director Ed Uhlir sought a landmark sculpture for the space. A committee invited submissions from artists around the globe who had done major outdoor pieces. They narrowed down the selections to two: Cloud Gate from London-based Anish Kapoor and a giant functional playground slide, made of glass and steel, from New Yorker Jeff Koons. “He wanted an observation platform about 90 feet in the air, with a slide that would carry people down to grade,” recalls Uhlir. Because of both handicapped accessibility concerns and the ostentatiousness of the slide, the committee picked Kapoor’s idea.
2. KAPOOR WAS KNOWN FOR HIS BIOMORPHIC FORMS AND INSPIRED BY LIQUID MERCURY.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the Bombay-born sculptor had several exhibits of large geometric shapes made from materials like stone, aluminum, and resin. Perhaps his most notable prior work was Void Field, a walkable layout of rough sandstone blocks, each topped by an enigmatic black hole, shown at the Venice Biennale annual art competition in Italy. His 1995 stainless steel globe, titled Turning the World Inside Out, is a precursor to Cloud Gate, similarly polished to leave no seam or remnant of construction visible.
3. CLOUD GATE WAS BUILT WITH THE SKYLINE IN MIND.
“What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline,” said Kapoor, “so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one's reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around.”
4. KAPOOR LEARNED TO MODEL WITH A COMPUTER.
In Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future, Nicholas Baume writes that until Cloud Gate, Kapoor modeled his work by hand. Later, the artist told Baume that planning the construction of seamless sculpture of that size required him to do “a great deal of computer modeling to analyze the form in order to make it well enough.”
5. CLOUD GATE WAS MADE IN CALIFORNIA.
Kapoor selected Performance Structures Inc. of Oakland, California, to fabricate Cloud Gate. The process took three years. Originally, PSI planned to assemble the entire object and ship it—via two oceans, the Panama Canal, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and Lake Michigan—to Chicago, but this was deemed unfeasible. So the company created a series of plates up to 7 feet wide, 11 feet long, and as heavy as 1500 pounds for another firm to assemble in Millennium Park. “We used computer technology to measure the plates and to accurately assess their shape and curvature so they would all fit together correctly,” PSI founder Ethan Silva said. The plates shipped in specialty containers, also made by PSI, to prevent them from being altered in transport.
6. IT SPENT ITS INFANCY IN A TENT.
While metalworkers polished Cloud Gate for its unique uninterrupted surface, the piece was hidden beneath a tent in Millennium Park for eight months in 2005.
7. IT’S CLEANED DAILY.
Every day, Cloud Gate accumulates sweat, grease, fingerprint grime, or shoe dirt from the myriad of visitors who touch it. Its cleaning schedule varies by season, but maintenance crews wipe the lower, touchable parts several times a day and often give it a power wash at night. Twice a year, the city bathes it in 40 gallons of Tide for a deep cleaning.
8. THERE IS AN APPARENT CHINESE COPYCAT SCULPTURE.
Last year, the Chinese town of Karamay unveiled a strikingly similar stainless steel statue. Kapoor is threatening to sue and trying to enlist legal help from the city of Chicago. A Karamay tourism official told the Wall Street Journal that the statue is meant to resemble an oil bubble. (Drilling is the town’s main industry.) “While we use similar materials, the shapes and meanings are different,” he added. Also: “Cloud Gate intends to reflect the sky, but ours reflects the ground.”
9. KAPOOR IS NOT FOND OF “THE BEAN” NICKNAME.
He once said it was “completely stupid.”