Cloud Gate: Chicago’s Iconic Bean in Millennium Park

Cloud Gate Chicago Photo By Elesi/Shutterstock

We were on a mission: To find the Chicago Bean!

Well, it’s not really a bean, and apparently the artist behind the iconic Chicago sculpture dislikes the fact that people call it a bean… but it really does look like a giant stainless steel bean! More of a destination than a work of art, it’s a must-visit Chicago photo spot and a fixture on many souvenirs such as postcards, sweatshirts, and posters.

I knew the famous sculpture, titled Cloud Gate, was located in Millennium Park, a part of Grant Park, so after visiting Buckingham Fountain and Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower, we walked over to the park and first encountered the Crown Fountain, a video and water sculpture. While watching the faces of the giant towers spout water out of their mouths, Brian spotted The Bean through the trees.

There were people everywhere!

Individuals and groups were snapping photo after photo and selfie and selfie, in front of The Bean, next to The Bean, and even under The Bean. It’s seamless, mirrored surface not only reflects the Chicago skyline, but those visiting the sculpture. In just one quick selfie you’ll capture your front-side and back-side! Plus, as you stand at different places around the sculpture, your reflection is distorted and twisted, so it’s like looking into one of those old fun-house mirrors.

When we were done snapping our photos in front of Cloud Gate, it was well past lunch time and we were absolutely starving!

We walked down the stairs to The Plaza at Park Grill, located beneath the sculpture. The outdoor restaurant’s menu looked awesome, there were plenty of table and chairs, and lots of staff on hand, so we decided to give it a try. But, after more than 15 minutes of sitting at our table without any type of acknowledgment from a server, we got up and left. It was hot and humid, we were thirsty, and I was irritated that we could visibly see eight staff members standing around and chatting with each other — and being hangry is no joke.

We were bummed at first, but thrilled to find Seven Lions just a couple blocks away, where we enjoyed delicious burgers, fish tacos, and fantastic service!

Cloud Gate Sculpture Known as The Bean
The seamless, stainless steel Cloud Gate sculpture, also fondly referred to as “The Bean” was designed by Anish Kapoor. Photo by F11Photo/Shutterstock.

About Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate, measuring 33 feet tall, 66 feet long, and 42 feet wide, is British artist Anish Kapoor’s first public outdoor work installed in the United States. The $23 million sculpture, funded entirely by donations from individuals and corporations, was constructed between 2004 and 2006. It is made of 168 stainless steel plates welded together nearly perfectly as its highly polished exterior has no visible seams.

Kapoor’s fluid, liquid-like design for Cloud Gate was inspired by liquid mercury and reflect Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above. Among the largest sculpture of its kind in the world, its 12 foot tall arch acts as a gate to a concave chamber beneath the sculpture that warps and multiplies reflections of visitors.

“What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline … so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one’s reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around.”

Anish Kapoor

The 110 ton Cloud Gate sculpture was the result of a design competition. After Kapoor’s design was chosen, there were technological concerns regarding construction and assembly, as well as upkeep and maintenance. Over time, the sculpture’s construction fell behind schedule. During the Millennium Park grand opening celebration in 2004, it was unveiled in an incomplete form, then was concealed under a tent while it was completed. Cloud Gate was formally dedicated on May 15, 2006.

Critical reviews describe the Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture as a passage between realms, as three-quarters of the sculpture’s external surface reflects the sky and the name refers to it acting as a type of gate that helps bridge the space between the sky and the viewer.

Sealed within Cloud Gate are stories of more than 100 metal fabricators, cutters, welders, finishers, engineers, technicians, ironworkers, erectors, and managers. Many worked overtime, performed shop work in the middle of the night, camped out on-site, and toiled in 110-degree temperatures in full Tyvek® suits and half-mask respirators. Some worked in gravity-defying positions, suspended from harnesses while holding tools and working on slippery slopes. You can read all about the fabrication and assembly process in the article, Metal fabricating in a new millennium, from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association.

Know Before You Go

  • Cloud Gate, also fondly called The Bean for its shape, is located at 55 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60601.
  • Cloud Gate is the centerpiece of the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, which was made possible by a gift from AT&T.
  • The lower six feet of Cloud Gate is wiped down twice a day by hand, while the entire sculpture is cleaned twice a year with 40 gallons of liquid detergent. The daily cleanings use a Windex-like solution, while the semi-annual cleanings use Tide.
  • According to the Chicago Tribune, while Cloud Gate was being constructed, there was also an architect’s desk and workspace set up inside the sculpture! The entrance was a hole on the underside of The Bean directly above where people stare when they walk under the sculpture.
  • Cloud Gate was made in California by Performance Structures Inc. of Oakland, California. The pieces of the structure were shipped to Chicago where it was assembled and completed by MTH Industries in Villa Park, Illinois.

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