Chicago finds `bean' meets taste test

Some hung from the fence surrounding the big bean in an attempt to get a better view. Others lined up their loved ones at just the right angle, taking pictures with the hulking silver structure glimmering in the background.

As the city prepares for Friday's official opening of Millennium Park, Chicago's residents are getting a sneak peek at their newest civic landmark--a three-story, 110-ton centerpiece sculpture that is drawing large crowds and rave reviews.

Nicole Beattie, for one, had thought the idea of the giant metal jelly bean was ridiculous.

"Now that I see it, it's spectacular," said Beattie, 60, as she gazed at the bean--and all that it reflected--along with dozens of others. "It's a moving landscape. It's amazing."

Over budget and months behind schedule, the $11.5 million bean, paid for with private donations, had been shrouded under a protective tent for months as workers attached its 168 panels.

Although the bean--named "Cloud Gate" by its creator--will not be finished for months, city officials recently removed the tent to show off the sculpture during opening ceremonies for the park, which begin Friday.

The bean will remain uncovered for several weeks before workers return to weld and polish the steel plates into one seamless, reflective surface.

For those who have been getting an early glimpse, the sculpture seems just fine already.

"I didn't understand it at first. I'm like, `Why do they have a big ball there?'" said James Church, 43, who works across the street from the park. "Now it makes a lot more sense, the way it reflects the city."

At 66 feet long, 42 feet wide and 33 feet tall, the stainless steel sculpture is, for some, a perfect match for a city that puts a premium on big things. Chicago cherishes its towering high-rises and its huge Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza.

"Cloud Gate," when completed, will be one of the largest sculptures in the world. Indian-born artist Anish Kapoor, who now lives in London, designed the elliptical shape to reflect the city's broad skyline -- a huge, curved mirror facing the park and the city around it.

"Look at how vivid it is," said John Horan, 49, of Chicago. "It looks like a high-definition TV. It's very cool."

In Larry Hable's 11th-floor office in Willoughby Tower, 8 S. Michigan Ave., windows overlooking the park are surrounded by drawings of the bean in various stages of completion. Hable, who sells hearing aids, said patients ask repeatedly about one thing: his view of the hulking metal structure.

"All my appointments, all day long, want to look at this thing," said Hable, 67. "I like it because the top of it is always changing, with the clouds moving."

Keeping such a shiny bean clean will be a chore.

John Bryan, chairman of Millennium Park Inc., the private donors group that is raising about $145 million of the park's costs, said an endowment has been established to keep the sculpture gleaming, most likely with the help of a machine like a cherry picker.

Bryan said it's unclear how often "Cloud Gate" will have to be cleaned because it is unknown what effect birds, acid rain or people will have on the steel. Graffiti and fingerprints, he said, will be easy to wipe off. Other marks might prove more difficult.

"All we know is we are prepared to keep it mirror-polished all the time," Bryan said. "Just polished is not enough. It's got to have perfect reflective quality."

Bryan said fences around "Cloud Gate" will come down Thursday night, allowing people to walk directly up to the sculpture--and even stick their heads inside the concave area underneath.

"I really think there's going to be a lot of discovery," he said. "Photographers in particular will be mesmerized by trying to get some sort of shot that no one has ever gotten out of it."

Not everybody is a fan, though. Juan Figueroa, 48, sees "Cloud Gate" every day as a security guard for a building across the street on South Michigan Avenue. He said he tries to avoid looking at the structure--and Millennium Park as a whole--because he thinks the cost was too high.

Originally scheduled to open in 2000 with a $150 million price tag, the park has been delayed repeatedly while costs soared. The total budget for Millennium Park now stands at $475 million, of which $270 million was paid for by downtown taxpayers.

Some of the cost increase was due to a decision to use the best architects and designers available, while new ideas for the park by a private donors group pushed the final tally even higher.

The bean itself was originally supposed to cost $6 million but the figure has ballooned to $11.5 million. Even though the structure was paid for by donations, detractors such as Figueroa say it simply cost too much.

"I'm totally negative," he said. "I think they spent way too much money on it, money that could be spent on the homeless and to help people find jobs. ... I don't even look over there. I'm disgusted with all the money they spent on it."

Others, however, could hardly take their eyes off it Wednesday.

As she ate her lunch under a tree near the sculpture, Kathy Monahan of Oak Park seemed transfixed by it.

"I've been trying to think of how to describe it," Monahan, 57, said as she watched from behind the fence. "It's better than a mirror because it's convex. It shows Chicago. It shows the world what the city is."

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COMING SUNDAY Architecture critic Blair Kamin reviews the park. The philosophy of Lurie Garden.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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