Although it has only been a few days since news broke that the long-awaited Anish Kapoor sculpture in New York had been finally completed, already people have started to gather at an unremarkable corner of Leonard Street in Tribeca just to see it. The 19-foot tall sculpture looks like a legume being squashed under a luxurious building. Its steel form appears to bulge out from the weight of a sleek outcropping.
The New Yorker was once called the sculpture. It is still not titled “the mini-Bean”, a reference to Kapoor’s Cloud Gate work, upon which this piece is loosely based. The Chicago sculpture that debuted in 2006 is still loved by both locals and tourists. This may be why the new Kapoor work has been so well received.
This sculpture is not Cloud Gate. Personally, I would be happy if the building that sits above it fulfilled its promise and destroyed the entire thing. Kapoor’s latest work is a large, reflective, shiny object that makes New York feel like the last boss of ugly public art. But that doesn’t stop people flocking to it.
It feels a bit odd to consider Kapoor’s sculpture public, but the structure that is above it is as private as they come. The building, which is known as the Jenga Tower was designed by Herzog & de Meuron. It contains 60 floors of luxury condos. Some of them even have views of the mini-Bean. One of the units was purchased by Kapoor for $13.5 million. You can’t see the tower’s top floors from the street because it rises so high. However, if you were to fly, you would notice that some of them protrude outward like unevenly placed blocks.
The new sculpture, estimated to have cost $10 million, was always part of the plan. It first appeared in reports on the Herzog & de Meuron tower building as early 2008, and it is still being built. The building was finished more than five years ago. The piece was delayed for years due to manufacturing problems and the pandemic. For a time, New Yorkers could only see the mini-Bean from the street. Curbed New York made a request to keep the piece that way in 2021. They argued that Chicago’s Bean should not be lost. But, alas, it was not to be.
The technical aspects of the new work have been much discussed. This is a common focal point when discussing Kapoor’s art which previously featured a continuously churning and parts made from the blackest black. This new mini-Bean is not as beautiful as the rest, but it’s still worth a look.
Cloud Gate was made in such a manner that its huge steel plates were seamlessly welded together, making the sculpture appear endless and smooth. It even appears to be otherworldly. The borders of some plates are visible in the mini-Bean. If you look closely, you will notice several thin, long slits that run across the piece. They disappear only when they are far away. It looks like a tacky, fast-fashion cousin to its couture Chicago counterpart.
This new Kapoor sculpture looks like a newly buffed car in renderings. It’s actually a lot less interesting in reality. The steel plates have already been stained with water spots. Will they withstand a winter storm or a summer downpour of rain? On a recent afternoon, I was able to watch a few workers work out how to best squeegee this sculpture. The soap suds were not leaving the work spotless, so one set to work and then let it dry.
The area surrounding the mini-Bean is also subject to technical fetishism. The Tribeca Citizen states that the sculpture is “suspended using a system of cables, spring members so it can move slightly with changes in temperature, wind, and snow loads.” But, even though the weather was freezing, Kapoor’s sculpture didn’t seem to move at all.
Some parts of the mini-Bean were blocked off on Thursday so that anyone trying to get in its cracks or under it can’t. These blocks were made from scrap plastic and placed around the corners of the mini-Bean. Kapoor accidentally lost the glossiness they were trying to convey. They may not be permanent. The mini-Bean’s niche gives viewers less freedom than Cloud Gate which can be walked around its entirety.
Kapoor must be commended for this: His mini-Bean can mess with your mind a bit. As I stood before it, gazing at the trifled images of Tribeca that were etched across its surface, my curiosity grew. He has created something that seems to sucking in the surroundings and then spit them out, making them look worse and stranger than before.
However, no one I saw seemed to be interested in this. One man filmed himself walking up to the statue, and then mumbled something. He then played the footage back, and apparently was not satisfied with the result, so he shot it again. A small child was seen rolling on a scooter and nearly touching the sculpture. Then he stepped back, possibly fearful of the coldness of the mini-Bean. A woman held a selfie stick and stood behind Kapoor’s sculpture. Two people fought for each other’s cameras, swapping positions in an effort to capture the best angles. Tourists gathered around the sculpture to block foot traffic, irking the selfie-taker and briefly obstructing pedestrians.
It seemed that none of them were there to appreciate the mini-Bean. They came to see their reflections in the mini-Bean.
Who gets a full view of the mini Bean? The people living on the streets must bow before the monstrosity, but it’s the Jenga Tower residents who can look down from their balconies like royalty. It is impossible to know what these residents see from this perspective, as almost nobody who passes Kapoor’s sculpture can visit these apartments.
The security camera attached to the ceiling above is another interesting detail that people who were viewing the mini-Bean didn’t notice. Somebody, somewhere, was able to see all of the mini Bean, even behind its barricades, while almost everyone else was unable to see the entire thing.
The mini-Bean is more sinister than it appears. I was reminded of Anna Chave’s famous essay from 1990 which described Minimalism’s “valorization” of power. It is the dangerous decision to exert influence over others by using large, beautiful, and spare objects. Kapoor’s work is far more severe than the Minimalists Richard Serra and Donald Judd. Kapoor does seem to thrive on the idea of most people feeling dominated by his art, and that only those who have paid for it should feel more powerful than others.
The New Yorker gives the mini-Bean its name – it is actually 12 feet shorter than its Chicago counterpart. It still feels grand, discomfiting, and in some cases even dangerous, despite its mirror surfaces. Although the sculpture appears to be giving victory to the skyscraper by being positioned so that it looks like it is, viewers are actually losing the battle against the building and Kapoor’s statement piece. This is not something we should be willing to do.