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9 Reflective Facts About Chicago's Cloud Gate

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It’s a lucky coincidence that Chicago’s Cloud Gate arrived around the same time as the selfie. In addition to being the kind of recognizable landmark made for Instagram travelogues, the 66-foot-long, 33-foot-tall, 110-ton reflective sculpture invites tourists with its funhouse-like mirrors and curves. Mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated “The Bean,” as it’s been dubbed, on May 15, 2006. Here are nine facts you might not know about this already iconic public sculpture.

1. IT WON OUT OVER JEFF KOONS'S GIANT SLIDE.

In 1998, Daley announced plans to turn railyards and parking space along the city shoreline into what’s now Millennium Park. In addition to a garden, fountain, and performance stage, project design director Ed Uhlir sought a landmark sculpture for the space. A committee invited submissions from artists around the globe who had done major outdoor pieces. They narrowed down the selections to two: Cloud Gate from London-based Anish Kapoor and a giant functional playground slide, made of glass and steel, from New Yorker Jeff Koons. “He wanted an observation platform about 90 feet in the air, with a slide that would carry people down to grade,” recalls Uhlir. Because of both handicapped accessibility concerns and the ostentatiousness of the slide, the committee picked Kapoor’s idea.

2. KAPOOR WAS KNOWN FOR HIS BIOMORPHIC FORMS AND INSPIRED BY LIQUID MERCURY.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the Bombay-born sculptor had several exhibits of large geometric shapes made from materials like stone, aluminum, and resin. Perhaps his most notable prior work was Void Field, a walkable layout of rough sandstone blocks, each topped by an enigmatic black hole, shown at the Venice Biennale annual art competition in Italy. His 1995 stainless steel globe, titled Turning the World Inside Out, is a precursor to Cloud Gate, similarly polished to leave no seam or remnant of construction visible.

3. CLOUD GATE WAS BUILT WITH THE SKYLINE IN MIND.

“What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline,” said Kapoor, “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.”

4. KAPOOR LEARNED TO MODEL WITH A COMPUTER.

In Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future, Nicholas Baume writes that until Cloud Gate, Kapoor modeled his work by hand. Later, the artist told Baume that planning the construction of seamless sculpture of that size required him to do “a great deal of computer modeling to analyze the form in order to make it well enough.”

5. CLOUD GATE WAS MADE IN CALIFORNIA.

Kapoor selected Performance Structures Inc. of Oakland, California, to fabricate Cloud Gate. The process took three years. Originally, PSI planned to assemble the entire object and ship it—via two oceans, the Panama Canal, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and Lake Michigan—to Chicago, but this was deemed unfeasible. So the company created a series of plates up to 7 feet wide, 11 feet long, and as heavy as 1500 pounds for another firm to assemble in Millennium Park. “We used computer technology to measure the plates and to accurately assess their shape and curvature so they would all fit together correctly,” PSI founder Ethan Silva said. The plates shipped in specialty containers, also made by PSI, to prevent them from being altered in transport.

6. IT SPENT ITS INFANCY IN A TENT.

While metalworkers polished Cloud Gate for its unique uninterrupted surface, the piece was hidden beneath a tent in Millennium Park for eight months in 2005.

7. IT’S CLEANED DAILY.

Every day, Cloud Gate accumulates sweat, grease, fingerprint grime, or shoe dirt from the myriad of visitors who touch it. Its cleaning schedule varies by season, but maintenance crews wipe the lower, touchable parts several times a day and often give it a power wash at night. Twice a year, the city bathes it in 40 gallons of Tide for a deep cleaning.

8. THERE IS AN APPARENT CHINESE COPYCAT SCULPTURE.

Last year, the Chinese town of Karamay unveiled a strikingly similar stainless steel statue. Kapoor is threatening to sue and trying to enlist legal help from the city of Chicago. A Karamay tourism official told the Wall Street Journal that the statue is meant to resemble an oil bubble. (Drilling is the town’s main industry.) “While we use similar materials, the shapes and meanings are different,” he added. Also: “Cloud Gate intends to reflect the sky, but ours reflects the ground.”

9. KAPOOR IS NOT FOND OF “THE BEAN” NICKNAME.

He once said it was “completely stupid.”

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John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

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Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images
60 Years Later, a Lost Stanley Kubrick Script Has Been Found
Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images
Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images

A “lost” screenplay co-written by famed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has been found after 60 years, Vulture reports.

The screenplay is an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella Burning Secret, which Vulture describes as a reverse Lolita (plot summary for those who forgot high school English class: a man enters a relationship with a woman because of his obsession with her 12-year-old daughter). In Burning Secret, a man befriends an adolescent boy in order to seduce his mother. Zweig’s other works have inspired films like Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (which the director claims he "stole" from Zweig's novels Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl).

Kubrick’s screenplay adaptation is co-written by novelist Calder Willingham and dated October 24, 1956. Although the screenplay bears a stamp from MGM’s screenwriting department, Nathan Abrams—the Bangor University professor who discovered the script—thinks it’s likely the studio found it too risqué for mass audiences.

“The child acts as an unwitting go-between for his mother and her would-be lover, making for a disturbing story with sexuality and child abuse churning beneath its surface,” Abrams told The Guardian. It's worth noting, however, that Kubrick directed an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1962, which MGM distributed, and it was also met with a fair share of controversy.

Abrams said the screenplay for Burning Secret is complete enough that it could be created by filmmakers today. He noted that the discovery is particularly exciting because it confirms speculations Kubrick scholars have had for decades.

“Kubrick aficionados knew he wanted to do it, [but] no one ever thought it was completed,” Abrams told The Guardian.

The Guardian reports that Abrams found the screenplay while researching his book Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film. The screenplay is owned by the family of one of Kubrick’s colleagues.

[h/t Vulture]

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