When Millennium Park opened in 2004, with Cloud Gate featured prominently, everyone should have known it was all over for the Picasso. The park was gorgeous and fun. It and the Bean were immediate tourist magnets and essential photo ops.
Four years later, if anybody still had doubts, the Bean trounced the Picasso in a Chicago icons “bracketology” challenge that ran in the Chicago Tribune and was modeled after the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Based on a vote by readers, the “Bean’s sheen” overpowered the Picasso “in a brutal first-round matchup,” the Tribune reported. The Bean then knocked off Calder’s “Flamingo,” the Michael Jordan statue outside the United Center and the Black-Eyed Susan (voted best native plant) before losing in the semifinals to the film The Blues Brothers. In the final matchup, the movie derailed the CTA Red Line.
The Picasso, as it happens, has a cameo in The Blues Brothers. Jake Blues says about the Daley Center, “That’s where they got that Picasso.” Later, Jake and Elwood zoom around the sculpture in a chase scene.
For decades, dropping a shot of the Picasso into movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Fugitive was an excellent way to establish that the setting was Chicago. Now, the Bean gets cast for that job in movies including The Break-Up, Source Code and the upcoming Transformers: Age of Extinction.
All of this conflict could be dismissed as a shallow popularity contest — the Picasso brooding like a high-school hipster while the Bean flashes her cheerleader smile — were it not that Cloud Gate really runs deeper than that. Not for nothing did British artist Anish Kapoor despair when Chicagoans nicknamed his beloved Cloud Gate the Bean. The formal name nicely suggests the transportive power of the sculpture: the way it pulls earth and sky, people and buildings, into its shimmery surface, creating a jumble of relationships. Cloud Gate melds the images of everyone who crowds beneath it and gazes up — strangers in it together — disembodied and smiling.
It feels good.