Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
Prior to our first visit to the Windy City, we placed the Cloud Gate Sculpture, otherwise known as the Bean, firmly on our must-see list of things to experience. I’m not sure why it was so important for us to see it, but it was. So, no sooner had we landed at Midway Airport and taken the Orange Line into the city than we headed off to Millennium Park to see what all the fuss was about.
I must say that the setting for this one-of-a-kind structure is very impressive. Set in the beautiful Millennium Park with the soaring Chicago skyline behind, it just begs visitors to congregate around this fairly new, yet very popular landmark. Cloud Gate itself is actually much larger than I anticipated, and you can walk underneath it, which I guess I had not noticed from just seeing pictures of it. Anyway, as we eagerly approached the sculpture our anticipation of what one actually does when they get there began to set in.
The Chicago Bean has created an interesting phenomenon in the Windy City. It draws visitors from all over the world and has become one of the most identifiable structures in a city full of interesting and historical architecture. Yet, in reality, it has become more of a destination for a photo opportunity for selfie enthusiasts than a work of art to be studied and appreciated.
Whatever the true intent of the sculpture was, and I do consider it to be a work of art, it has certainly been a huge success. The reflection of the Chicago skyline seemingly floating in the sky makes for quite a sight. If you get creative you can take some interesting photos using the reflection of the city.
Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.
— Frank Lloyd Wright
What Exactly Is Cloud Gate?
The Chicago Bean is a stainless steel sculpture that stands 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, 66 feet long, and is located in the AT&T Plaza of Millennium Park. The design was created by artist Anish Kapoor following a design competition and was to be unveiled during the grand opening of Millennium Park in 2004. The sculpture was unveiled even though it had not been completed and was then concealed again until it’s completion in May of 2006.
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The sculpture is shaped like a kidney bean, hence the name Bean, and was inspired by of all things, liquid mercury. Despite having 168 steel panels welded together, the Bean has no visible seams and is highly reflective due to an intense polishing process, which makes it a magnet for every selfie enthusiast that visits Chicago.
What to Do at Cloud Gate
Once you arrive at the Chicago Bean, the next logical thing to do seems to be taking photos of it. It really reminded me of our time in Pisa at the Leaning Tower where everyone seems to be posing in front of a singular object of intense fascination. People certainly come up with all sorts of creative and interesting photo opportunities, and I suppose this is what Cloud Gate is all about. It offers visitors a beautiful venue in which to let their creative and playful side shine. It also provides incredible reflections of Chicago’s skyline in its highly polished surface.
When you have exhausted all of your creative energy posing and taking photos of the Bean, be sure to check out the Crown Fountain. Located just a stone’s throw from the Bean, the Crown Fountain has two 50-foot towers that continually project the faces of 1,000 Chicago residents. I wonder how many of these folks have gone down to the fountain and actually seen their image?
The faces appear to spout water when they open their mouth creating a very unique and creative fountain. The two glass towers are set at opposite ends of a black granite reflecting pool that provides welcome relief to kids looking to cool off and escape the summer heat. It’s just one more reason why Chicago’s Millennium Park draws locals and visitors alike.
Interesting Facts on the Cloud Gate Sculpture
- Because of the sweat, dirt, fingerprints, etc. that accumulate on the Bean, it is cleaned daily. Depending on the season it is often power washed at night and twice a year it’s washed in 40 gallons of liquid detergent.
- Cloud Gate was designed using computer modeling and was constructed in California by Performance Structures before being shipped in pieces to Chicago.
- Surprisingly, the interior of the sculpture is made largely of wood.
- The sculpture wound up costing about $23 million and was paid for entirely with individual and corporate donations.
- During the design competition phase, Cloud Gate beat out a giant 90-foot slide that was designed by Jeff Koons.
- The Chicago Bean weighs in at a staggering 110 tons.
- The sculpture was designed to last at least 1,000 years, and this was actually stated in his Kapoor’s contract.
- Cloud Gate has become so popular that it has a drink named after it. You can order a Cloud Gate cocktail at the Tavern at the Park Restaurant.
- There is a copy of Cloud Gate in the Chinese city of Karamay. Supposedly it represents an oil bubble to commemorate the site of the first oil well in the city, but both Anish Kapoor and Chicago city officials see it for what it actually is, a blatant copy.
- Creator Anish Kapoor apparently is not thrilled with his work of art being called the Bean.
I must admit that we had our share of fun while visiting the Bean. It truly amazes me the things that draw our interest and attention, and I mean that in a very positive way. Take a seemingly impractical hunk of stainless steel, shape it into a kidney bean, polish it up so it’s very shiny and reflective, and the people will come. Pure genius!
Anyway, if you are visiting the Windy City for the first time, make the effort to wander through Millennium Park to the Cloud Gate Sculpture, I think you’ll find it to be a refreshing and fun experience.
© 2019 Bill De Giulio