American Landmark: Cloud Gate (The Bean)
Updated: Feb 5
Visitors enjoy "The Bean" in the summer of 2013
American Landmarks is an irregular feature focusing on buildings, sites, objects, and structures that have not been officially designated as any of the four landmark types covered on this site but have still been deemed by me to be important icons of America.
Cloud Gate (known colloquially as "The Bean") is one of America's most successful and popular outdoor public sculptures. Located in Chicago's Millennium Park, the Bean sits in the center of a large plaza on the lakefront eastern edge of downtown. The work has become a defining international symbol of Chicago, prompting countless other communities worldwide to attempt to replicate its success with landmark sculptures of their own.
Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor won a competition hosted by the city with his liquid-mercury-inspired design. The massive sculpture, measuring 33 feet high, 66 feet long, and weighing 110 tons, was designed to reflect and distort the iconic skyline surrounding it, a feat made possible by the 168 seamless, highly polished stainless steel plates of which it is built.
Chicago skyline reflected in Cloud Gate
The effect is an unparalleled immersive experience that allows visitors to connect with the sculpture and, through it, the surrounding city as well. From this experience, the name "Cloud Gate" was derived, as the work acts as a sort of portal between the world of clouds and skyscrapers and the world of the viewers on the ground.
Omphalos (navel) of Cloud Gate
Kapoor also wanted to ensure viewers could get the same treatment as the surrounding buildings. To facilitate this desire, a 12-foot high opening beneath the sculpture (the "gate" portion) leads visitors to the omphalos, or navel, of the work. As seen above, this area of the sculpture distorts reflections like a fun house mirror, creating a delightfully playful experience for viewers to enjoy.
Viewers photograph and enjoy Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate was constructed by Performance Structures, an Oakland, California-based company that had initially planned to build the sculpture there and ship it by sea to Chicago. However, when this plan proved unfeasible, construction was shifted on-site. Two massive steel rings and a steel truss support the work from its hollow inside. Attached to this interior structure are metal brackets that support the outer skin and allow the metallic object to expand and contract with fluctuations in the exterior temperature.
Since opening in 2006, Cloud Gate has been one of the most popular attractions in Chicago, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world on any given day and regularly appearing in the Top Five "Things to Do" in that city on TripAdvisor. The unique design and resounding success of this modern classic make it, far and away, one of the defining works of public sculpture in America.
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