Exploring Chicago: The Cloud Gate Controversy

Cloud Gate aka “The Bean”, located in Millennium Park, is one of the most photographed pieces of public art in Chicago.  The sculptor, Anish Kapoor, who created the 33′ x  66′ x 42′ piece from 168 highly polished stainless steel plates, claims to have a copyright on the work.  Any use of the photographs, other than “fair use” which is meant for educational or critical purposes, may be considered a copyright infringement.  The city will sell permits for those who want to use the photographs commercially.  It seems that after a sports writer was stopped by park security when trying  to take a photo in 2005, the city relaxed its permit to photograph requirements.  Now, film crews  of more than ten people are still required to buy a permit in order to photograph the sculpture.  However, the copyright laws apply to publishing.  (Here, I refer to Daniel Grant’s article in Sculpture Magazine, May 2005, Vol.24, No.4, http://www.sculpture.com)

Has Kapoor lost sight of the concept of his own work?  It’s surface reflects the city–by night and day–in snow and in rain.  Each photograph is a unique interaction with the piece and should be considered a work of art in itself. The public has rebelled; photographers freely publish their work on the Internet despite Kapoor’s restrictions.  One may ask:  Is public art for the aesthetic interpretation  of the public or is it for the aggrandizement of the artist?

Kapoor now has accused  China of infringing on his rights. Oil Bubble, a giant highly polished steel sculpture in the shape of an oil bubble in the city of Karamay, an oil town in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in Kapoor’s mind, is a direct copy of Cloud Gate.  Of course, the Chinese  disagree.  In their view, the Oil Bubble reflects the earth, while Cloud Gate reflects the sky and the City of Chicago. Kapoor wants to take legal action and even has asked  Mayor Rom Emmanuel for help in the matter.  Emmanuel’s laid back approach was reflected in his commenting that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

cloud gate
Cloud Gate, photographed by Nick Aguinaga
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Oil Bubble, photographed by China News Agency, Zhou Jianling
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