First, meaning making begins with titles. The artist, Anish Kapoor, calls this “Cloud Gate,” but it’s a bit like how Bono’s father used to call him Paul. Just like everybody in music calls him Bono, everyone in Chicago calls it “The Bean.” The name “Cloud Gate” is apropos, though, because it does evoke the alien and the supernatural aspects of experience. The origin of the epithet “Bean” is self-evident. It looks like a huge, metallic kidney bean.
Anish Kapoor, the artist behind “Cloud Gate” often evokes themes of infinity and immateriality. The work bends the lines between solidity and emptiness, reality and the virtual. At one point, the sculpture reflects one’s image with near perfect accuracy while at another point, it distorts one’s image completely. By extension, it suggests that other dualities like east and west, flesh and spirit or sky and earth are not as distinct as we may have previously thought. A subtle duality of the piece is between lightness and weightiness as it seems to float, almost weightless, while in reality it has a mass of 110 tons (99,700 kg).
The underside of “Cloud Gate” is the omphalos, i.e. navel (Gk.). This mind-bending, surrealist aspect of the sculpture is like a fun house, distorting and multiplying reflections. For extra fun, send a small child under the sculpture and see what happens. For the Ancient Greeks, the omphalos was the center of the world. In “Cloud Gate,” the omphalos is like the center of the universe, a strange place where anything can happen.
In many ways, “Cloud Gate” represents a triumph of engineering as many critics feared it would be impossible to assemble. Consider this, the whole sculpture lacks visible seams, welds, or supports. Also, for those who do not know Chicago, the temperature can easily top 100 F (38 C) in summer and dip below -10 F (-23 C) in winter. The sculpture has internal rings that allow it to expand and contract with shifts in temperature without cracking. Also, and this is delightful, the Bean receives two washes per year in 40 gallons of Tide laundry detergent. (http://www.chicagoarchitecture.info/Building/636/Cloud-Gate.php). For a detailed explanation of how it was constructed, read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_gate#cite_note-0 (“Construction and Maintenance” Section).
And just for fun, watch this music video on VEVO which features Kanye West staring into “Cloud Gate.”
“Cloud Gate,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_gate.
“Chicago Architecture Info: Cloud Gate,” http://www.chicagoarchitecture.info/Building/636/Cloud-Gate.php.
“Cloud Gate: A Magic Mirror in Chicago,” http://www.sculpture-info.com/news-288/cloud-gate-a-magic-mirror-in-chicago.html.