It is Kapoor’s first public outdoor work in the United States, and is the work by which he is best known in the country according to the Financial Times.
The sculpture was selected during a design competition. After Kapoor’s design was chosen, numerous technological concerns regarding the design’s construction and assembly arose, in addition to concerns regarding the sculpture’s upkeep and maintenance. Various experts were consulted, some of whom believed the design could not be implemented.
Constructed between 2004 and 2006, the sculpture is nicknamed The Bean because of its bean-like shape.
It was created by using computer technology to cut into precise shapes 168 giant stainless steel plates, which were pieced together like a puzzle and welded shut; its highly polished exterior has no visible seams.
The cost for the piece was first estimated at $6 million; this had escalated to $11.5 million by the time the park opened in 2004, with the final figure standing at $23 million in 2006. No public funds were involved; all funding came from donations from individuals and corporations.
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.
Kapoor was inspired by liquid mercury and the sculpture was given a formal name once fully assembled.
Cloud Gate measures 10 by 20 by 13 meters (33 by 66 by 42 feet), and weighs 100 tonnes (110 US tons).
Visitors are able to walk around and under Cloud Gate’s 3.7-meter (12-foot) high arch.
On the underside is the “omphalos” (Greek for “navel”), a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections.
Cloud Gate aims to evoke immateriality and the spiritual through the shine and reflectivity of its surface. The sculpture’s design is also very peculiar and seeks to create a sense of duality: sky-earth, internal-external and reality-reflection. The convex portion opens up to the sky and reflects the universe, while the concave portion (underside) invites the visitors and multiplies their reflections. Multiple reflections move in a fluid manner, and create the illusion of solid being transformed into fluid, thus intensifying the experience.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley declared the day of the sculpture’s dedication, May 15, 2006, to be “Cloud Gate Day”.
Time describes the piece as an essential photo opportunity, and more of a destination than a work of art.
The New York Times writes that it is both a “tourist magnet” and an “extraordinary art object”, while USA Today refers to the sculpture as a monumental abstract work.
Chicago art critic Edward Lifson considers Cloud Gate to be among the greatest pieces of public art in the world.
Cloud Gate now serves as a famous symbol of Chicago and is one of the city’s most photographed attractions.
It is now a fixture on many souvenirs such as postcards, sweatshirts, and posters.
Kapoor’s contract states that the constructed piece should be expected to survive for 1,000 years.
The lower 1.8 meters (6 feet) of the sculpture’s surface is wiped down twice a day by hand using a surface cleaning solvent that gets rid of fingerprints, oiliness, dew streaks and other dirt that accumulates on the Cloud Gate which is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors every day.
In addition, the entire sculpture is cleaned and washed twice a year with 150 liters (40 US gallons) of liquid detergent. This process calls for the use of specialized equipment and safety features.
A notable February 2009 rare incident saw two names etched in letters about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) tall on the northeast side of the curved sculpture. The graffiti was removed by the same firm that did the original polishing.
A restaurant called Tavern at the Park, off the corner of Michigan Ave and Randolph St, directly north of Millennium Park, serves a Cloud Gate cocktail. However, it’s not for those strapped for cash. The martini costs $175, and it’s made with Grey Goose La Poire vodka, homemade sour mix, pineapple juice, a splash of champagne and presented on a silver tray with a glass rimmed in edible silver. However, the expense comes not from the ingredients, but the silver Cloud Gate Tiffany’s charm necklace it’s adorned with.
In 2015, a sculpture similar to Cloud Gate was reported in Karamay, China at the site of an oil discovery, which according to Eduardo Peñalver, the Dean of Cornell Law School, “very probably” is a copyright infringement against Cloud Gate. Though designed to resemble an oil bubble, Kapoor hoped that legal action would be taken against what he termed a Chinese knockoff. Mayor Rahm Emanuel was less concerned and said that it was a flattering imitation.
Cloud Gate appeared in several films including The Break-Up, Source Code, Transformers: Age of Extinction.
It also appears in the video to “Homecoming”, a song by Chicago native Kanye West, featuring Chris Martin of the band Coldplay.