Dear China, as an official representative of Chicago’s Media Elite, let me say this: You may have our Bean.
Which isn’t as generous as it sounds, as China, true to form, has already taken it. Or at least a smaller version of it.
A reproduction, more or less, of the sculpture that has graced Chicago’s Millennium Park since 2006 will be unveiled soon in Karamay, a city of 300,000 in China’s northern region.
The Chinese, with typical brio, pretend to have cooked up the idea themselves, an echo of the old Soviet claims of inventing the telephone. The People’s Daily crowed about their new “stainless steel sculpture in the shape of an oil bubble.” Karamay is a center of oil production.
Its name, in English, will be “Big Oil Bubble,” but it’s only a matter of time until they start calling it “Dou,” or Chinese for “Bean.”
Anish Kapoor, the artist who created Chicago’s “Cloud Gate,” as nobody calls it, has expressed outrage at the “blatant plagiarism.”
“The Chinese authorities must act to stop this kind of infringement,” he said.
Now that’s funny — the naivete of artists. The Chinese authorities haven’t stopped the blatant infringement to the tune of billions of dollars of intellectual theft of CDs, DVDs, computer programs, designer handbags, you name it. The odds of them starting now — “Oh gosh, Comrade, Anish Kapoor is threatening to sue us! Tear Great Oil Bubble down immediately!” — are zero.
I would encourage Kapoor to chill out regarding both the Chinese homage to his work and the Chicago name. Kapoor has been complaining privately that he is not fond of the Bean nickname.
Two things to keep in mind.
First, as the owner of a $3 Rolex, which my older boy bought for me during his school jaunt through China, I would observe that these Chinese knockoffs suffer considerably in quality. The Big Oil Bubble is far smaller than our Bean — you can’t walk under it — and is strung with red Christmas lights, a grace note of aesthetic wrongness that reminded me of the dinner I had at the Chinese consulate here where they balanced a single Pringle’s potato chip on the salad plate as a garnish.
I don’t imagine that the reflection on the Chinese sculpture is painted on, like the smaller dials of my watch. But I would bet it isn’t constructed with the solid American craftsmanship that made the Bean. A few seasons in the polluted air of China’s chief petroleum producing district and the Chinese Bean will be as reflective as a coffee bean and approaching the same color.
Second, even if through some miracle of Communist engineering the Bubble/Bean’s reflective qualities don’t wash away in the acid rain, remember this: The glory of our Chicago bean is that it’s reflecting us here, our people and our visitors and the city surrounding us. I haven’t been to Karamay and I hope to never go. But Chicago it ain’t.
We’re always aspiring to be a “world-class city,” right? Well, part of that is having your glories ripped off by lesser cities. Suck it up. Do you think that Paris loses sleep because they built a mini Eiffel Tower in Vegas? I doubt it. These things happen. We can’t condemn the Chinese for something we do ourselves. I have not done the research, but I would be very surprised if Pisa, Italy, registered displeasure when the Leaning Tower of Niles went up in 1934 — a rip-off if ever there were. And heck, consider the Great Oil Bubble of China another Chicago trade representative. Some number of Chinese, having gazed at themselves long enough in their version of the Bean, might decide to spend some of their petrodollars to come here to see the real thing.
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