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Anish Kapoor, ‘Cloud Gate’ artist: ‘I call it “The Bean,” too’

Anish Kapoor beneath his sculpture "Cloud Gate" (aka "the Bean") before the dedication ceremony held May 15, 2006, at Millennium Park. | AP

Anish Kapoor, the artist who dreamed up “Cloud Gate” — the sculpture phenomenon in Millennium Park better known as “The Bean” — hasn’t seen his internationally recognized work in person since it was dedicated in 2006.

But he’ll get another look Tuesday when he’s back in Chicago, flying in from his home in London, to be honored at the Grant Park Music Festival’s Advocate for the Arts Awards benefit.

“Cloud Gate” captured the imaginations of all who saw the 110-ton sculpture, which is made of 168 seamlessly welded, stainless steel plates and carried a price tag of $11.5 million.

The work has becomed one of the most recognizable images of Chicago. An unauthorized copy even popped up, to Kapoor’s dismay, in Karamay, China.

One of the greatest things to happen to “Cloud Gate” was the advent of the selfie. With the mirror-like surface of this giant ovoid form reflecting both Chicago’s grand vertical skyline and the faces and figures of the many who gather at the sculpture, it has become this city’s equivalent of the Eiffel Tower.

“Public objects have a weird way of morphing,” says the sculptor, 63, who was born in India, the child of a Hindu father and Jewish mother, and moved to London in the early 1970s for art school. “In one way, ‘Cloud Gate’ is mine. But, in another way, it has taken on all kinds of other lives.

“It has incorporated the life of all those millions of people who have taken wedding pictures there or otherwise posed in front or beneath it. And they now own it more than I do. It is the ultimate selfie object.

“And I think it has become the focus of a different view of Chicago, too — part of the city and its public space. I can’t control it. It has an ownership of its own, like the Picasso sculpture and others.”

The Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park

“The Bean.” | Sun-Times files

Kapoor’s not pleased, though, that the sculpture also has been used as “a political object.”

“A very vile video ad was released by the National Rifle Association in late June, and it included shots of ‘Cloud Gate’ along with Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Renzo Piano’s tower for The New York Times,” he says. “The ad was designed to suggest the ‘foreign objects’ in our cities.’ ”

As for the clearly more admiring Chinese copy of “Cloud Gate,” Kapoor says he appealed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to help him make a copyright issue of that but found no enthusiasm for the fight. “Public sculpture,” he says, “is a territory that is difficult to fully defend.”

Looking back at his original commission for “Cloud Gate,” Kapoor remains effusive in his admiration for longtime former Sara Lee Corp. chief executive officer John H. Bryan, “the CEO whose incredible energy made Millennium Park happen. He took a chance on me — then still a relatively young artist with a very expensive project — and he went for it uncompromisingly. That’s a rare thing and an example of true civic commitment.”

Artist Anish Kapoor, famed for “Cloud Gate” (aka “The Bean”), his stainless steel sculpture in Millennium Park. | Gautier Deblonde

Kapoor says the sculpture “took years to invent and make because it involved a whole new technology and a huge amount of innovation. It was Ethan Silva, who had a workshop for stainless steel in Oakland, California, who was bonkers to take the project on. We had approached Boeing, which was not really interested. But we bought a couple of milling machines, and Ethan did it.”

How did Kapoor’s interest in sculpture develop?

“Initially, it was not my interest, but I came to realize it was where the greatest possibilities for innovation existed,” he says. “And with ‘The Bean,’ I wanted to further explore the ovoid shape, bending it in a way that would form a gate and also provide a space one could go into.

“Also, Chicago is a very vertical city, and I wanted to make a horizontal sculpture that would draw in the clouds as well as the buildings.”

Asked about sculpture he likes to live with, Kapoor says: “For some years now, I have been collecting early Indian sculpture from the B.C. years to the 10th century — dancing gods and more, in stone and bronze.”

And how does he feel about his work being called “The Bean?”

“It’s great for it to have a colloquial name, its own lingo,” Kapoor says. “I call it ‘The Bean,’ too.”

***The Advocate for the Arts Awards benefit at the Fairmont Hotel also will honor civic and arts leader Ginger Meyer and the Arts Club of Chicago and will support the festival’s free, 10-week classical music series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and community activities. Call (312) 553-2000 or go online to www.gpmf.org/benefit.