Contemporary Art in Context: Cloud Gate

About the artist

Anish Kapoor, one of the world’s most distinguished and significant contemporary artists, was born in Mumbai to a Punjabi-Hindu father and an Iraqi-Jewish mother. He has studied art at the Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea School of Art Design.

In the 1980s he surfaced as one of the several British sculptors working in an innovative style and gaining global recognition for their work, like Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Anthony Gormley, and Bill Woodrow. Kapoor’s pieces are usually simple, curved forms, sometimes monochrome, and frequently bright and noticeable. An interesting characteristic is also that they are sometimes covered by powdered pigments or some of it is lying around them on the floor. Here the inspiration comes from the coloured powders used in India as Kapoor saw on his visits.

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His later works are constructed of solid, pitted stone, a lot of which have carved orifices and cavities. The translucent quality of resin, the brightness of pigment and the liquefied reflections of stainless steel and water all express his fascination with darkness and light that is apparent throughout his sculptures. Through this play between form and light, Kapoor evokes sublime experiences for the viewer. Kapoor says, ‘One of the phenomena that I’ve worked with over many years is darkness.

Darkness is an idea that we all know about, in a way an idea about the absence of light. Very simple. ’ In the 1990 Kapoor represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, where he received the award of Premio Duemila. The subsequent year he won the esteemed Turner Prize. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held in the Tate and Hayward Gallery in London, Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, Reina Sofia in Madrid, the National Gallery in Ottawa, and the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux. In 2004, Cloud Gate was inaugurated at Millennium Park in Chicago. Cloud Gate:


Sculpture cannot continue without originality and creativity. For sculptors it is difficult to come up with a great idea that no one has done before. Anish Kapoor is one of those talented artists who succeed in this with Cloud Gate being his famous masterwork. Cloud Gate is this Kapoor’s first public outdoor work installed in the United States. Inspired by the likeness of liquid mercury, it is made of a 168 seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates welded together, which reflect the Chicago’s famous skyline and the skies above.

A 12-foot-high arch-like structure provides an entrance to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, called the “omphalos”, inviting visitors to feel its highly reflective surface and see their image dramatically warped and reflected back from a multiplicity of perspectives. The sculpture reflects many of Kapoor’s imaginative themes although many tourists simply take the sculpture and its unique reflective properties to be a great photo taking prospect.


In 1999, Millennium Park officials and a group of art collectors, curators and architects met to review the proposed sculpture designs by 30 different artists from all over the world. The committee finally selected Kapoor’s proposed sculpture over artist Jeff Koons’s proposal to erect a permanent 150-foot (46 m) slide at the park. Kapoor’s contract also states that the constructed piece was expected to survive for 1000 years. This design, ultimately named Cloud Gate, was inspired by the silver reflective quality of liquid mercury and intended to reflect Chicago’s skyline.

This sculpture was originally envisioned at the southeast corner of the Lurie Garden, but park officials finally decided to locate it at AT&T Plaza, which is where it currently stands. The sculpture was first affectionately nicknamed “The Bean” by the public and media outlets, and then officially named “Cloud Gate” by Kapoor months later. The name came from the fact that three-quarters of the sculpture’s external surface reflects the sky and that the sculpture is sort of a gate into the sky. Design and construction: The structure created several design dilemmas.

It was feared that it might maintain and convey hot and cold temperatures in such a way that made it too hot to touch during the summer and so cold during the winter. It was also suggested that the extreme temperature variation might weaken the structure. Graffiti by the visitors, bird droppings and fingerprints were probable problems as well, as they would affect the aesthetics of the flawless sculpture and kill the idea of seamless reflection, since the most pressing issue was the desire to create a single seamless structure.

Various experts that were consulted, including Norman Foster thought such a plan was probably impossible. One other issue was that the sculpture was originally approximated to weigh 60 short tons, because it was impossible to estimate the thickness of the steel compatible with the desired aesthetics at that time. However, the completed piece weighs 110 short tons and thus additional care was required to support it. Luckily, all the problems were resolve in the end. On the inside of its shell are several steel structures that keep the sculpture standing.

At first two stainless steel rings, were put into place in February 2004. During the construction, crisscrossing pipe trusses were assembled between the two rings. The trusses and supporting structures were only present for the construction phases and now it has no inner bracing. The frame can also expand and contract with the sculpture as temperatures fluctuate. The American Welding Society awarded Cloud Gate, MTH Industries and PSI with the group’s Extraordinary Welding Award. The sculpture contributed to Millennium Park being named among the 10 best architectural achievements of 2004 in Time.


Cloud Gate soon after its installation became an icon of the city of Chicago. The public took an instant liking to it, affectionately naming it “The Bean. ” It has incredible drawing power, attracting locals, tourists and art enthusiasts alike, and is now mostly the piece by which Kapoor is identified. It is one of the most photographed attractions in the city too.

Anish Kapoor himself says, What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline … o 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. Artist’s premise: Kapoor’s artworks often aim to stir up immateriality and the spiritual, a result he achieves either by carving dark voids into stone pieces, or through the sheer shine and reflectivity of his objects.

Cloud Gate limits its viewers to partial understanding at any time. The interaction with the viewer who moves to create his own vision in the art piece itself gives it a spiritual dimension. It is also labelled as one of the most provocative structures in the world since it represents both the male and female in one entity by symbolizing both the vagina and testicles. Thus, it represents the tension between the masculine and the feminine; although a hundred people can take a hundred interpretations out of it.

A visitor describes, ‘It’s unique. It’s Beautiful. It’s a messenger. The message I could read from the bean is. “I am the seed, who want to accommodate the whole earth, who want to come closer to me and shadow the Willingness of being together and reflect the beauty in that togetherness” Artistic Study: I chose to discuss this work because it immediately appealed to my interest in reflections and shiny surfaces, which also makes me a great fan of Kapoor’s ideology itself. On study, I could not find a pattern in Kapoor’s work.

The is no real relation to the world around him, but rather his art is an attempt to make people slow down, stare and expand their minds away from the status quo they typically occupy psychologically. I really like the fact that there is a gate to the centre of the Cloud Gate which gives the viewer the liberty to move around the whole thing and experience how it feels around him, truly incorporating himself into it. Upon entering this gate, solid is transformed into fluid in a disorienting multiplicative manner that exaggerates the experience.

Also as soon as I see it, I desire to reach out and feel the smoothness of the metal surface because of its seamless exterior. The perfection of this piece calls for immediate attention and makes it feel like it has magically landed here from a fantasy world and makes the viewer wonder what and how. When the light is right, you can’t see where the sculpture ends and the sky begins, which gives it a whole new surreal feeling creating a unique experience.

Also, the construction of this gigantic structure required immaculate skill on the craftsmen part, so while you experience the glassy feel of the metal you also wonder how such a smooth finish has been achieved. To me, like the rest of the world, this piece is beyond successful, both from design and construction points of view. From a layman to an art expert, Cloud Gate appeals alike. To sum up, Kapoor’s art is always forward moving. His unique style and approach to sculpture inspires one to think-outside-the-box and push the limits of creativity, like he has done in Cloud Gate.


  1. Baume, Nicholas (2008). Anish Kapoor: Past Present Future. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-02659-8.
  2. Gilfoyle, Timothy J. (2006). Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-29349-3.
  3. “The Bean Unveiled”. Chicago Tonight. Chicago. May 15, 2006.
  4. Jodidio, Philip (2005). Architecture: Art. Prestel. ISBN 3-7913-3279-1.
  5. “Cloud Gate”. Chicago Architecture Info. Retrieved June 1, 2008.
  6. Sharoff, Robert (2004). Better than Perfect: The Making of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Walsh Construction Company. Becker, Lynn. “A photo essay on the making of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park”.
  7. Thomas, Neil and Chadwick, Aran (2009). Liquid Threshold. Atelier One. ISBN

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Contemporary Art in Context: Cloud Gate. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from