Cloud Gate

Kapoor, Anish

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Sculpture

Genre: Sculpture

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler
  • Date of entry: Jan-11-2006


A 110-ton, 33 foot by 60 foot elliptical sculpture of stainless steel plates welded together with almost invisible seams, polished into a smooth rounded shape like an enormous glob of mercury. It rests in Millenium Park in Chicago, where its organic form has earned it one of those epithets so damningly accurate it becomes an endearing nickname: informally, the piece is called The Bean. The concave shape has a 12 foot high arch, through which spectators can walk into a 27 foot high chamber.

This central curvature is called the "omphalos": omphalos is a term that can mean center or hub, or a raised prominence within the base of an object (its literal meaning here), but also has connotations of a navel or a belly. Like a mercury Henry Moore, this piece refines the human form into its most basic curves: "Cloud Gate" is so titled by Kapoor because it invites the sky and clouds into the city, but it is also a body, kneeling perhaps, with the sky above and the reflected bodies of those walking under it cupped in its belly.


Of the many possible associations provoked by this piece (including the aforementioned "Bean" and its allusions to mercury), "Cloud Gate" is also reminiscent of science fiction movies, where figures emerge from or are reduced to liquid metallic blobs. Unlike these unnerving foes, though, "Cloud Gate" does not harbor some technologically advanced monster, but rather draws in the surrounding beauty - the architecture of the clouds and the buildings lining Michigan Avenue - and the people who come to visit it. One definition of art might be that it reframes how we experience the world around us; as insufficient as most definitions of art are, this one has the advantage of taking into account the spectator and the audience.

In Anish Kapoor's already beloved contribution to Chicago's famous collection of architecture and outdoor sculpture, you are quickly tempted to pay attention to your own reflection as you approach it, once you have noted how gorgeously it captures the skyline and the sky. However beautiful the piece is, it is also a plaything: people wave, to make sure they are identifying themselves; others lean into their reflections and mug to themselves; some laugh at the fun-house mirror distortions, as they become as elongated as a Modigliani, as rounded as a Botero. Also distorted, but retaining its unique contour, is the famous skyline of Chicago, limning the silver surface. One's own body, one's own position in space, one's own relationship to Chicago and the sky is reframed in the loveliest of mirrors.


Piece completed Summer, 2005

Primary Source

Millenium Park, Chicago