Public “Sculpture” That Moves Us to Play or Cry

Want to see somber-looking pedestrians suddenly break out in smiles, start posing with each other – even laying on the pavement together, looking up and taking photos in a very public place? Like to see yourself literally in many different ways? Then visit Anish Kapoor’s play-inducing Cloud Gate.

After I spoke at an IABC in Chicago we decided to take an architectural tour of the magnificent early skyscrapers.

Across the wide Michigan Avenue from the Chicago Architectural Foundation, where our tour gathered you see the magnificent Millennium Park. Three imaginative structures were designed to be tourist magnets. All are Me2We art, moving people to interact, sometimes even with strangers. Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion was expected to be the top attraction, yet Cloud Gate and the Crown Fountain are the real crowd-involvers.

Looking like a gigantic liquid mercury bean, Cloud Gate is an elliptical, mirror-like sculpture. It that looms large yet is so inviting. Walking up to it, under and around it to see shape shifting portraits of yourself, your friends, nearby strangers and many sides of the sky and buildings around you. People touch it and join in making faces at it. Often they turn to look back at “The Bean” from different directions. That feeling of joy extends to the proud craft people involved in its making, many of whom have not yet been able to see it on site.

Nearby, Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain is actually two 50-foot high towers, separated by a 48-foot wide pond of water that flows over an edge at sidewalk level. But the spectacular action happens in four short acts. First, you see led light-generated Chicagoan’s face appears on each tower. Moments later that person purses her or his mouth. Then, in modern gargoyle fashion, and a spout of water spews out. For a finale before the next 12-minute show starts with the face of another Chicagoan, a wall of water falls down both towers. (Over 1,000 photos are in this free show.)

Two other large public ‘sculptures” that fall into the Me2We category because they draw people closer, albeit via a much different emotion – to viscerally remind us of a war. One is Maya Lin’s famously moving Vietnam Memorial.

For Oregonians, an especially touching, if lesser-known, monument also involves people in walking through the experience. Like Lin’s monument, Walker Macy’s wall is made of polished, black granite. See the names of Oregonians who died. Yet, as you walk up along this wall and follow it around a curve, the wall rises higher as the number of war deaths rose over time and then lower as the end nears. Along the bottom of the wall, if memory serves me right, you see listed, one after the other, significant events in that faraway war. Right above each war event you find an event that happened in Oregon at the same time, for example our Portland Rose Festival. The juxtaposition is appropriately jarring – as it would be if we build the same kind of wall, one day, to remind us of the effects the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some are starting with their own monuments now.

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with Kare Anderson

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