By Mārtiņš Vanags, University of Chicago student 13/05/2011
From a vantage point in the center of Chicago’s Millennium Park, this is the scene that opens up. On one side is the Art Institute of Chicago with its newest addition, designed by Renzo Piano. On the other side is Frank Gehry’s open-air stage in the middle of the park. Nearby, you can also see the concert hall of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In the plaza by the park, two sculptures rise up: Anish Kapoor’s polished metal “bubble” and Jaume Plensa’s video sculpture, which also functions as a fountain. These objects can be viewed against the backdrop of Chicago’s much admired twentieth-century modernist architecture—the city’s skyscrapers.
The reader will notice that the previous paragraph describes cultural objects, mostly new and modern. In this sense, Chicago refutes at least two stereotypes about a cultural city. First, that it must be “European,” and second, that it must be ancient with a centuries-long history. This, of course, doesn’t mean that a cultural city can’t be both European and ancient, like Florence or Edinburgh; yet Chicago proves that this is not mandatory.
The art institutions and objects centered around Millennium Park in Chicago are a tourist destination and a trademark for the city. This has been proven by several studies conducted by the city, whose accuracy can be verified by anyone who visits downtown Chicago. Millennium Park is always filled with people; on warm days it simply overflows with visitors. It is difficult to describe the feeling that overcome you in this place. One possibility would be to say that our experience here is somehow authentic and genuine. Art objects and institutions in Millennium Park engender a “living” impression: they are not chilly and remote but, rather, they invite people to expand their cultural experience and abandon themselves to the enticement of this experience. This is a place that makes you want to return. Millennium Park is valuable not only because it is a recognizable embodiment of the city’s ambitions, but also because it leaves a lasting impression on its visitors.
Anish Kapoor’s polished metal object reflects the landscape of Chicago’s skyscrapers. In this way it concentrates, and allows us to see, the city’s overall visual character in a single sculpture. Looking at this work of art, there is no doubt that it was created precisely for this place and this culture, for this era and these people. I suspect that almost any open-minded person would be capable of perceiving Kapoor’s work even better than, say, the baroque sculptures in some cathedral in old Europe.