As street art and public sculptures gain popularity, there are some that simply capture our imaginations because they defy normal artistic description. Such is the huge metal sculpture in the middle of Chicago’s Millenium Park.Although its official name is “Cloud Gate,” most people know it as “The Bean.” Shaped like a huge, shining kidney bean, this metal structure that was inspired by liquid mercury stretches across 66 feet of the AT&T Plaza. It throws off weird reflections like a crazy mirror in a carnival.
Created over a two-year span by a British artist who welded 168 stainless steel plates together, the sculpture was unveiled in 2006. Since that time it has become a major tourist attraction in Chicago. Located on the east side of Michigan Avenue, visitors won’t have any trouble finding it.Because of its spherical shape, buildings and people take on a concave reflection in the polished sculpture. Of course, that means kids (and adults) line up to take photos of themselves looking distorted and goofy in the mirror’s image.
Visitors are able to walk around and under Cloud Gate's 12-foot high arch. It’s a fun experience that hundreds, even thousands, do on a daily basis. On the underside is the "omphalos" (Greek for "navel"), a concave indentation whose mirrored surface provides multiple reflections of any subject situated beneath it. To keep it all shiny bright—and remove smudges from curious visitors’ fingerprints--workers wipe the bottom section daily and polish the whole thing two times a year.I found it’s best to stand back a bit to take in the full mesmerizing effects of The Bean. In a city known for outstanding architecture, this remarkable piece of public art stands out; it’s just quirky enough for everyone to love while admiring its artistic dimensions. In every sense it truly reflects the heart of the city.
Photos by Larry Burmeier