Everything you need to know about 'The Bean'

Catch up on the lore of Chicago’s most famous art sculpture.

Isaiah Reynolds
Written by
Isaiah Reynolds
Assistant Editor
The Bean
Photograph: Shutterstock

Chicago’s most famous metallic legume is back on display this week after months of maintenance work. In celebration of its return and Millennium Park’s upcoming 20th anniversary, here’s everything you need to know about the adored public art.

Whose idea was "The Bean?"

In 1999, to prepare for the highly-anticipated opening of Millennium Park, city organizers asked dozens of artists from around the world to submit proposals for public art. Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (the official name of "The Bean") was chosen.

Kapoor, a world-renowned British sculptor, originally wanted to model the art piece off of liquid mercury, hence the reflective metal exterior. Featuring an “omphalos” (Greek for “navel”), the concave chamber at the center of the structure, "The Bean" is said to act as a gate between realms and allows visitors to walk directly under the massive artwork. 

In explaining his vision to the Chicago Tribune in 2004, the artist said, "What I wanted to do was to make a work that would deal with the incredible skyline of Chicago and the open sky and the lake but then also be a kind of gate. You know, the tradition of public sculpture is for the gate, the archway, the square to flow within [the landscape] rather than be an object decorating it."

Kapoor also considered Chicago-specific geography while designing Cloud Gate.

“Chicago is a very vertical city,” Kapoor told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2017. “I wanted to make a horizontal sculpture that would draw in the clouds as well as the buildings.”

At 33 feet high and 110 tons in mass, "The Bean" is one of the largest permanent outdoor art installations in the world. 168 massive stainless steel plates are carefully shaped around an internal structure with flexible attachments that allow the exterior to expand and contract with the changing temperatures of the Windy City.

According to the Sun-Times, Kapoor originally did not like the colloquial name of “The Bean.” He described the popular nickname as “completely stupid" in 2006. Years later, however, Kapoor began to accept the name change and said he even calls it “The Bean,” too.

How much did "The Bean" cost?

In 1999, the original cost of the kidney-shaped artwork was roughly $6 million. By final completion in 2006, the total costs had soared to $23 million, according to the Chicagoist. The unexpected costs were fronted by private donors.

Why do people love "The Bean" so much?

The short answer: No one knows. Some are fans of the striking reflections in the middle of downtown while others cling to the absurdity of a giant bean taking up so much space in the city center. Whether you’re going to yell at "The Bean" with thousands of others or taking a selfie in front of it, make sure you don't miss the peculiar beauty of one of Chicago's best attractions.

Just don’t lick it. Ever.

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