Cloud Gate is a public sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor. It is the centerpiece of the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park within the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois, and is located above Park Grill and adjacent to the Chase Promenade. The sculpture was constructed between 2004 to 2006, with a temporary unveiling in the summer of 2004. Nicknamed "The Bean" because of its legume-like shape, its exterior consists of 168 highly polished stainless steel plates. It is , and weighs . The sculpture and the plaza are sometimes jointly referred to as Cloud Gate on the AT&T Plaza.
Cloud Gate is one of the most popular sculptures in the United States. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture's exterior reflects and transforms the city's skyline and visitors are encouraged to walk around and under Cloud Gate's arch, which is high. On the underside of the sculpture is the omphalos, a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections. The sculpture builds upon many of Kapoor's artistic themes, although many tourists simply view the sculpture and its unique reflective properties as a photo-taking opportunity.
The sculpture was the result of a design competition. Once chosen, its implementation caused numerous technological concerns regarding its construction and assembly, as well as ongoing concerns regarding its upkeep and maintenance. Various experts were consulted, some of whom believed the design could not be implemented. Eventually, a feasible method was found, but the sculpture fell behind schedule and was unveiled in an incomplete form during the Millennium Park grand opening celebration before being concealed for completion.
In 1999, Millennium Park officials and a group of art collectors, curators and architects reviewed sculpture proposals by 30 different artists. The committee chose the proposed design of internationally acclaimed artist Anish Kapoor over artist Jeff Koons's proposal to erect a permanent slide at the park. Koons' glass and steel design would have had a observation deck that required an elevator. Kapoor's contract states that the constructed piece should be expected to survive for 1,000 years. His proposal was inspired by liquid mercury and designed to reflect Chicago's skyline. The stainless steel sculpture was originally envisioned at the southeast corner of the Lurie Garden, but park officials eventually decided to locate it at AT&T Plaza, its current location. Now, skyscrapers to the north along East Randolph Street (The Heritage, Smurfit-Stone Building, Two Prudential Plaza, One Prudential Plaza, and Aon Center) are visible on both the east and west sides of the sculpture.
As the sculpture was being constructed, the public and media outlets first nicknamed it "The Bean" because of its legume-like shape. Months later, Kapoor officially named the piece "Cloud Gate". This name refers to the three-quarters of the sculpture's external surface that reflects the sky and acts as a type of gate that helps bridge the space between the sky and the viewer. It is Kapoor's first public outdoor work in the United States, and is the work by which he is best known in the US.
The structure's design created numerous dilemmas. There were concerns that being outside, Cloud Gate might retain and convey hot and cold temperatures in a way that made it too hot to touch during the summer and so cold that one's tongue might stick to it during the winter. It was also believed that the extreme temperature variation between seasons might weaken the structure. Graffiti, bird droppings and fingerprints were also potential problems, as they would affect the aesthetics of the sculpture. The most pressing issue was the need to create a single seamless exterior for the external shell, a feat architect Norman Foster once thought to be nearly impossible.
The sculpture's weight also created another potential problem. Because of the impossible task of estimating the thickness of the steel needed to create the sculpture's desired aesthetics, Cloud Gate was originally estimated to weigh . The final piece, however, weighs , almost double the first estimated figure. This extra weight required engineers to rethink the sculpture's supporting structures. The roof of the Park Grill, upon which Cloud Gate sits, had to be built strong enough to bear the weight. The large retaining wall separating Chicago's Metra train tracks from the North Grant Park garage that travels along the back side of the restaurant supports much of the sculpture. This wall, along with the rest of the garage's foundation, required additional bracing before the piece was erected. Cloud Gate is further buttressed by lateral members underneath the plaza that are anchored to the sculpture's interior structure by tie rods.
Performance Structures, Inc. (PSI) was chosen to fabricate the sculpture because of their ability to produce nearly invisible welds. The project began with PSI attempting to recreate Kapoor's design in miniature. A high-density polyurethane foam model was selected by Kapoor, which was then used to design the final structure, including the interior structural components. Initially, PSI planned to build and assemble the sculpture in , and ship it to Chicago through the Panama Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway. However, this plan was scrapped after park officials deemed it too risky. Instead, the piece was assembled on-site by MTH Industries.
Inside Cloud Gate's polished exterior shell are several steel structures that keep the sculpture standing. The first structural pieces, two type 304 stainless steel rings, were put into place in February 2004. As construction continued, crisscrossing pipe trusses were assembled between the two rings. These supporting structural components were designed and constructed to make sure no specific point was overloaded and to avoid producing unwanted indentations on the exterior shell. The frame was also designed to expand and contract with the sculpture as temperatures fluctuate. As a result, the two large rings supporting the sculpture move independently of one another and the shell is allowed movement independent of the rings. When Cloud Gate's interior components were completed, construction crews prepared to begin working on the structure's outer shell. The shell comprises 168 stainless steel panels, each thick and weighing . They were fabricated using three-dimensional modeling software. Metal stiffeners were welded to each panel's interior face to provide a small degree of rigidity. About a third of the plates, along with the entire interior structure, were fabricated in Oakland. The plates were covered with protective white film and polished 98% before being sent to Chicago via trucks. Once in Chicago, the plates were welded together on-site, creating 2,442 linear feet (744 m) of welded seams. They were fabricated so precisely that no on-site cutting or filing was necessary when lifting and fitting the plates into position.
In June 2004, when construction of the shell began, a large tent was erected around the piece in order to shield it from public view. Construction first began with the omphalos, where plates were attached to the supporting internal steel structure. These plates were attached from the inside (underside) of the sculpture downward to the outermost surfaces. The sequence of construction caused the structure to look like a large sombrero when the bottom was complete.
The sculpture was fully erected for the grand opening of Millennium Park on July 15, 2004, although it was unpolished and unfinished because its assembly had fallen behind schedule. The piece was temporarily uncovered on July 8 for the opening, though Kapoor was unhappy with this decision since it allowed the public to see the sculpture in an unfinished state. Originally planned to be re-tented for polishing on July 24, public appreciation for the piece convinced park officials to leave it uncovered for several months. The tent was again erected in January 2005 while a 24-person crew from Ironworkers Local 63 polished the seams between each plate. In order to grind, sand and polish the seams, six levels of scaffolding were erected around the sides of the sculpture, while climbing ropes and harnesses were used to polish harder-to-reach areas. When the upper and side portions of the shell were completed, the tent was once again removed in August 2005. On October 3, the omphalos was closed off as workers polished the final section. Every weld on the Cloud Gate underwent a five-stage process, required to produce the sculpture's famed mirror-like finish:
|Stage||Name||Equipment used||Sandpaper type||Purpose|
|1||Rough Cut||, 4½-inch (110 mm) electric grinder||40-grit||Removed welded steams|
|2||Initial Contour||, , air-driven belt sander||80-grit, 100-grit and 120-grit||Shaped the weld contours|
|3||Sculpting||air-driven , belt sander||80-grit, 120-grit, 240-grit and 400-grit||Smoothed the weld contours|
|4||Refining||double action sander||400-grit, 600-grit and 800-grit||Removed the fine scratches that were left from the Sculpting stage|
|5||Polishing||electric buffing wheel||of rouge||Buffed and polished the surface to a mirror-like finish|
The sculpture was finally completed on August 28, 2005, and dedicated on May 15, 2006. The cost for the piece was first estimated at $6 million; this had escalated to $11.5 million by the time the park opened in 2004, with the final figure standing at $23 million. No public funds were involved, as all funding came from individual and corporate private donations. Cloud Gate is wiped down twice a day by hand and is cleaned twice a year with of liquid detergent. The daily cleanings use a Windex-like solution, while the semi-annual cleanings use Tide.
The sculpture is tremendously popular, and is now mostly the piece by which Kapoor is identified. The piece has become so popular that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley declared the day of the sculpture's dedication, May 15, 2006, to be "Cloud Gate Day". Kapoor attended the celebration, while Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic played the Davis-composed "Fanfare for Cloud Gate". Time describes the piece as an essential photo opportunity and more of a destination than a work of art, while one article in The New York Times describes it as a "tourist magnet" and another as an "extraordinary art object". USA Today calls the sculpture a monumental abstract work. Chicago art critic Edward Lifson considers Cloud Gate to be among the greatest pieces of public art in the world. The sculpture has been used as a backdrop in commercial films, notably in the recent Hollywood film The Break-Up, which had to reshoot several scenes because the sculpture was under cover for the initial filming. In 2005, the sculpture attracted some controversy when a professional photographer without a paid permit was denied access to the piece. As is the case for all works of art currently covered by United States copyright law, the artist holds the copyright for the sculpture. This allows the public to freely photograph Cloud Gate, but the direct permission of Kapoor is required for any commercial reproductions of the photographs. At first, the city set a policy of collecting permit fees for photographs. These permits were initially set at $350 per day for professional still photographers, $1,200 per day for professional videographers and $50 per hour for wedding photographers. On May 24, 2005, the policy was changed so that permits were only required for "large-scale" film, video and photography requiring ten-man crews and equipment.
In both 2005 and 2006, almost all of Millennium Park was closed for a day for corporate events. On both occasions, as one of the park's primary attractions, Cloud Gate was the focus of controversy. On September 8, 2005, Toyota Motor Sales USA paid $800,000 to rent all venues in the park except Wrigley Square, Lurie Garden, McDonald's Cycle Center and Crown Fountain from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. On August 7, 2006, Allstate paid $700,000 to rent the park. For this price, Allstate acquired the visitation rights to a different set of features and only had exclusive access to Cloud Gate after 4 p.m. These corporate closures of the park were controversial because they disallowed tourists visiting the park access to its primary attractions and commuters who walk through the park were forced to take alternate routes.
While the sculpture's mirror effects are reminiscent of fun-house fairground mirrors, they also have a more serious intent: they help de-materialize this very large object, making it seem light and almost weightless. Kapoor's objects often aim at evoking immateriality and the spiritual, an outcome he achieves either by carving dark voids into stone pieces, or more recently, through the sheer shine and reflectivity of his objects. He explores the theme of ambiguity with his work that places the viewer in a state of "in-betweenness". The artist often questions and plays with such dualities as solidity–emptiness or reality–reflection, which in turn allude to such paired opposites as flesh–spirit, the here–the beyond, east–west, sky–earth, etc. that create the conflict between internal and external, superficial and subterranean, and conscious and unconscious. Kapoor also creates a tension between masculine and feminine within his art by having concave points of focus that invite the entry of visitors and multiplies their images when they are positioned correctly.
One of the features of the sculpture is the omphalos, which is located in the center of the underside of the sculpture. The omphalos is an indentation whose mirrored surface provides multiple reflections of any subject situated directly beneath it when looking up. It is high and, as a part of the concave underside, it invites visitors to walk under and through its arch to the other side so that they view the entire structure. During the grand opening week, several press reports described the omphalos as the "spoon-like underbelly". As visitors walk around the structure that reflects them, they are distorted in reflections of a larger-than-life size scale that other viewers partake in. The reflections from the sculpture distort the entire skyline of the city.
Cloud Gate is similar to many of Kapoor's previous works with respect to the themes and issues it addresses. Kapoor attempts to challenge his viewers to internalize his work through intellectual and theoretical exercise. By reflecting the sky, visiting and non-visiting pedestrians and surrounding architecture, Cloud Gate limits its viewers to partial comprehension at any time. The interaction with the viewer who moves to create his own vision gives it a spiritual dimension. The sculpture is described as a disembodied, luminous form, which is how his earlier 1000 Names (1979–80) was described when it addressed the metaphysical and mystical.
Previous to creating Cloud Gate, Kapoor had created art that distorted images of the viewer instead of portraying images of its own. In so doing, he acquired experience blurring the boundary between the limit and the limitless. Sky Mirror (2001), a concave stainless steel mirror that attempted to use such a theme of distorted perception, was one of the experiences that Kapoor incorporated in the design of Cloud Gate.
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