One of the most unique and interesting sculptures in decades graces the promenade at Chicago’s Millennium Park. With “Cloud Gate” sculptor Anish Kapoor has created a work of art that holds something for everyone. It reflects the splendor that is the Chicago skyline. It plays tricks with the light and the sky. It is massive, giving it weight and importance. It is elegant — balanced on its ends and without any color of its own. And finally, it is interactive, and lets the viewer become part of the art or stand back and let the simple act of walking, turning, or even just swaying change the visual presented by the sculpture. When it was unveiled in July of 2004, it was derided by some as unimaginative. Some branded it “The Electric Kidney Bean.” That “bean” nickname stuck, and the public quickly changed its meaning from pejorative to loving. In the weeks following its unveiling, throngs of tourists and locals were drawn to its magical presence. Even if some television news anchors chose to dismiss it before they had even seen it in person, the public loves “the bean” and embraces it as a new symbol of Chicago.
Kapoor calls his creation “Cloud Gate” because 80 percent of its surface reflects the sky. He might as well have called it “Public Spectacle” because that’s precisely what it’s become, and what its viewers unwittingly become. Because of the way it bulges and looms over the viewer, people making faces in the stainless steel skin aren’t having the private moment they might expect. Their gyrations are expanded, stretch, and displayed over a much greater surface area so that others can enjoy what would be merely a one-on-one experience in an ordinary carnival fun house mirror. But as has been established, this is no ordinary mirror. To some it looks like a rift in the very fabric of space and time, and its combination of simplicity and elegance have allowed it to be embraced as a quirky mascot. A walk under its nine-foot-tall arch can be a mind-bending experience.