The first of Millennium Park’s crowd-pleasers to develop a major problem was the Bean, as Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate has come to be called. Unveiled last July, the sculpture’s been hidden inside a tent since January as workers grind down and polish the seams between its 168 metal plates. In the process the original budgeted cost has almost doubled, to $17 million, and according to Karen Ryan, spokesperson for the Department of Cultural Affairs, no completion date has been set.
Now there’s been a meltdown at Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, the shallow pool of water stretched between two towers where LED panels project an array of more than 1,000 different faces that spout water from pursed lips. For starters, recent visitors to the park have noticed “dropouts,” blank spaces cropping up like zits on the faces of the south tower. Ryan says Barco, the Belgian manufacturer that installed the one-of-a-kind displays, has traced the dropouts to power-supply failures in the LED panels, which it believes are the result of the recent soaring temperatures. She says Barco employees turned off the video gargoyles and have been working “around the clock” since the end of July testing connections and replacing parts, which must be custom made and programmed specifically for the fountain. She expects the south tower faces to be up again by the end of this week, and she says all the work falls under the warranty, requiring no additional spending by the city. Since hot summers are probably here to stay, Barco is also looking at ways to make sure the dropouts don’t reappear.
On the southwest corner of the same tower visitors can also see streaks of discoloration creeping up the inside of the glass blocks. “It’s actually algae,” says Ryan. Heat and humidity are again being blamed; the corner where the algae appeared is also the part of the tower that gets the most sun. Ryan says the blocks should be cleaned soon and the process may have to be repeated every three to four weeks.
Plensa’s vision has been compromised temporarily, the giant faces replaced by rotating test colors. But throngs of people continue to crowd the fountain, and the laughing kids running through the water scarcely seem to notice that one set of faces is missing.
Last July at the park’s unveiling Plensa explained the impetus for the work by describing walks he’d taken through Rome and the “marvelous fountains that they did 500 years ago. Unfortunately they carved the figures in stone, and for 500 years they have exactly the same position. I think today technology allows us to go a little bit farther, and it was an intention for me to try to develop that concept in Chicago.” Of course you can still experience Rome’s fountains pretty much as the locals did when they were created, but Plensa’s fountain, like Kapoor’s sculpture, didn’t even make it through its first year without serious complications. The new world of dynamic high-tech sculpture is proving trickier than anyone imagined.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry, Lynn Becker.