On Tuesday, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) installed a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, the same artist behind Chicago’s Cloud Gate (better known as the Bean). The two sculptures are remarkably similar: both are hewn in shiny stainless steel and occupy prominent public spaces in their respective cities. They even have similar names and public sitings: Cloud Gate frames Millennium Park horizontally, while Houston’s Cloud Column is mounted vertically in front of the Glassell School of Art.
In light of the install, writers in both cities took to the pages of their respective papers-of-record to defend their hometown sculptures and throw serious shade across the continent.
In the Chicago Tribune, Kim Janssen derided Cloud Column as a johnny-come-lately Bean and took cheap shots at Houston’s arts scene:
If being surrounded by a cultureless abyss insufficiently communicates to confused tourists that they are in Houston, the bean’s verticality will therefore act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices.
Kapoor told the paper Cloud Column, which he imagined in 2000 and brought to life in 2006, is a totally separate thing from Cloud Gate, despite the obvious resemblance.
Today, Houston Chronicle senior digital editor Lisa Gray responded to Janssen in a letter:
Yeah, it’s true that we have a giant new shiny bean that stands upright. But Kim, did it occur to you that maybe we wanted it just because it’s a cool thing? It’s a piece of art, and works by the same artist often look similar. Our Calder looks kinda like other places’ Calders.
It made me wonder: Is Chicago feeling defensive? How bad is it there, knowing that Houston is set to pass you in population, taking your spot as third-largest city in the U.S.? Are you feeling—well, to steal someone’s joke from Twitter–like a “has-bean”?
Janssen, of course, volleyed back. The Chronicle lovingly reprinted their dogged this-is-the-city-booster-hill-I’ll-die-on correspondence under “Dear Chicago: Houston’s bean is better. And so is Houston”–a shots-fired headline if there ever was one. Here’s a selection from the conversation:
Chicago: “It’s a leftover bean, a second-rate bean that’s been lying around in storage for the better part of 20 years, because nobody else wanted it. Nobody except Houston wants a leftover, second-rate bean.”
Houston: “Our art critic, Molly Glentzer, tells me that our bean is actually the better bean—the original bean, the one made by hand, the one that reaches for the sky. Appropriate for its spot in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s fast-growing complex—which is, as far as I can tell, the fastest-growing big art museum in the country.”
Chicago: “If art were measured by the yard—and I can see the appeal, to a Texan—you might have a point.”
Houston: “Any final thoughts? It’s been a pleasure fighting with you.”
Chicago: “As a certified hater, I thought I’d never find as chippy a city as Chicago. But the outpouring of bile from Houston has genuinely surprised me, and given me hope that you may one day amount to something worthy of our rivalry. In the meantime, enjoy your bean, which is not as good as our bean, and never will be.”
Separate from this beef, in a statement on the install, MFAH Director Gary Tinterow copped to the Chicago influence: “When we had the opportunity several years ago to acquire this precursor to Chicago’s Cloud Gate, I could only imagine that it would be as extraordinary for this city as Anish’s work has been for Chicago,” he said. “Its elegant form and the subtle humanity of its hand-worked surface will fully animate this new gathering place for Houston.”