Wednesday, October 12, 2011

...about public art: Cloud Gate

Each day this week, I'm looking at my list of top public artworks, and the traits they share that make them great.

Interactivity • Cloud Gate • Chicago, IL • Sculptor: Anish Kapoor

How do you honor a city of big shoulders and right angles, rebar and girders? Throw it a curve. And that’s exactly what Bombay-born Brit Anish Kapoor, in his (believe it or not) first-ever permanent outdoor public commission, Cloud Gate. All at once sleek, engaging, fun and sophisticated, it seems like the only fitting monument to a city that has (literally) elevated skyscrapers to high art: reflect them in the mirror-like surface. And in doing so, Kapoor has created a piece that beckons, welcomes and engages, purely through scale, form and material choice.

It’s a most elegant spaceship (and a marvel of construction in this city which already has so many) in the heart of Millennium Park. This big silver jelly bean (actually, 110 tons of polished stainless steel) is not a piece that just sits there. It brings the city to it, literally and figuratively. In reflecting the city and city-goers around it, it creates a point of interaction that is hard to resist, even from a distance, where visitors try to find their reflections in a disarming game of Where’s Waldo. Up close, the surfaces give you a different game to play as images appear and disappear, bend and stretch depending on vantage point and your sense of silliness.

In spite of its playful demeanor (or rather, the playful demeanor it draws from its admirers), it is a remarkably beautiful thing, born of technology no doubt but so welcoming to the changing sky above it. If we’re lucky, all of the future will be so elegant and brilliant, shiny and new.

Perhaps our vanity is at its root of its engaging interactivity: we like to see ourselves, check our image in a shiny surface. If the happy images reflected by Cloud Gate are what we can all look like (smiling, entertained, engaged, silly), perhaps vanity is not such a vice after all. All thanks to the Bean.

All photos:

Tomorrow: Subtlety: the High Line

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