Tunnel Vision.

The line between public art and graffiti would seem to be solid—after all, one is sanctioned and generally approved and the other is illegal and generally considered a violation. But I think there are some holes in that line. Both are art and both are, mostly, public. And it’s my blog and if I wanna talk about public art in my weekly post on the subject of graffiti who’s gonna stop me?

Anyway in Chicago’s Millenium Park there’s the statue Cloud Gate, also appropriately nicknamed “the bean”, although it looks much less bean-like once you get into it and even in it, which can be fun and disorienting, unless you don’t like crowds.

And if you’re okay with crowds it’s fun to get up close to it and see yourself reflected in it, the distortion of the landscape becoming less intense the closer you get because the closer you get the more you see yourself–which would seem to be the idea. It’s all about the surface.

And that schmuck in the middle.

What really intrigued me, though, was the approach to the bean. I was walking along North Michigan Avenue toward it and then noticed stairs leading down under the street, which of course I had to take because, hey, who was gonna stop me? A short pedestrian tunnel leads under the street and at the entrance is decorated with a mural.

In shadow, only reflecting hints of light, it’s only there for those adventurous enough to stay away from the crowds, to go underneath the main road. Meaning, if there is any, is not obvious. You bring yourself to it but what it gives back is not clear.

Or, as John Ashbery said in Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror,

Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted,

Desolate, reluctant as any landscape

To yield what are laws of perspective

After all only to the painter’s deep

Mistrust, a weak instrument though


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  1. Gilly Maddison

    ‘The bean’ is wonderful in my opinion – thanks for letting those of us too far away to be reflected in it at least see it. I love pieces of art like this because they provoke discussion and draw the attention of huge numbers of people. Even if people are saying they dislike a piece of work, they are still engaged by it rather than being indifferent. We have such a piece called The Scallop exhibited on a beach in a local coastal town some people love it, some hate it, others are indifferent. But it is the dialogue between the lovers and haters that makes it interesting (aside from its own merits). Thanks for transporting me to Chicago from my lazy Saturday morning bed.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The debates between people who love public art and hate it are always interesting and, to me, a large part of what makes such works worthwhile. And the fun thing about ‘the bean’ is the way it attracts such huge crowds. I walked under it and found the experience disorienting but also weirdly fun. And while I didn’t get any pictures of them there was a couple getting married there and having their pictures taken next to and under it. The crowds were very respectful and moved out of the way, and people even cheered and clapped for the happy couple.

  2. Red

    Nice. Been there, but I missed the underground art.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s part of the fun. Most people were using the regular street crossing above and the tunnel easily escapes the notice of anyone who isn’t looking for it.

  3. Ann Koplow

    Nobody’s gonna stop you, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And, like Freddy Mercury, I’m having such a good time.


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