Sculpture in Xinjiang Rips Off Chicago Icon, The Bean


As you know, China is infamous for its copycat architecture and imitation fine art industry.   Earlier this week, Hyperallergic noticed that a new sculpture in Karamay (克拉玛依市), Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China looks uncannily similar to Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, better known as “The Bean”, the popular stainless steel selfie site in Millenium Park in Chicago.  Referred to as the “Big Oil Bubble,” the Chinese sculpture was built at the site of post-1949 China’s first large oil field by a Chinese artist who has so far remained anonymous.  It is scheduled to be open to the public by August 31.

Ma Jun, the planning and construction management section chief of Karamay’s Tourism Bureau, denied the undeniable resemblance in an interview with the Wall Street Journal‘s China Real Time, saying that his town’s oblong silver reflective sculpture “looks like an oil bubble” while Chicago’s “has a bean shape”.   See more photos at Getty Images and here.

He explained, “You can’t say we’re not allowed to build a round sculpture because there already is a round one,” he added. “While we use similar materials, the shapes and meanings are different. Cloud Gate intends to reflect the sky, but ours reflects the ground; that’s why we used granite to imitate oil waves (in the area surrounding the sculpture).”


(Photo by China News Agency/ Zhou Jianling)

His explanation isn’t a complete pretense.  The sculpture rests over Well No. 1 and a uniform grid of LED lights which reflect on the underbelly.  To Ma, the lights may be contours of waves, but they also create an energetic chaos, suggestive of a primordial earth before carbon-based life forms — who after hundreds of millions of years would transform into the oil to which the sculpture pays tribute — existed and roamed.

Ma knows how cool this is: “People can enter the big bubble to visit and hold activities.”  If that’s not enough, he adds, “There are some small bubbles around to make it more fun.”

Kapoor, who pulled out of a show at Beijing’s National Museum of China in 2011 and a year later made Gangnam for Freedom to show support for Ai Weiwei after his 草泥马 style was censored by the Chinese government, is furious and is considering legal action to have the sculpture removed.  He told Hyperallergic, “It seems that in China today it is permissible to steal the creativity of others.  I feel I must take this to the highest level and pursue those responsible in the courts…The Chinese authorities must act to stop this kind of infringement and allow the full enforcement of copyright.”

Kapoor's Cloud Gate.  Photo by Robert Occhialini, licensed through Creative Commons

Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. Photo by Robert Occhialini, via Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons

Although Kapoor hoped Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would help defend Chicago’s icon, the mayor did not share the sculptor’s outrage.   “’Imitation is the greatest form of flattery’ is what I would say. And if you want to see original artwork like this or like the Bean, you come to Chicago,” Emanuel said, leaving Kapoor “astonished”.

Read Kapoor’s response in full:

I feel myself to be an honorary citizen of your great city of Chicago. Cloud Gate, nicknamed The Bean, has been a major feature of Chicago’s landscape for over a decade and has helped keep in view Chicago’s vision of itself as the most modern city in America, if not the world.

I am therefore astonished at your statements about the Chinese copy of the sculpture Cloud Gate as that of an act of flattery. I urge you to stand by my side and fight plagiarism. I feel compelled to ask what other businesses and innovators from Chicago have had their copyrighted material stolen in a similar way? Will you call this flattery, too?

Creativity in all walks of life is hard won. It is incorrect to accept that we should allow for it to be undermined or stolen and therefore give it little or no value. Chicago will lose from this thievery. We cannot let this happen.

Anish Kapoor

13 August, 2015

It’s unclear whether Kapoor will be successful in his efforts, but recently a U.S. court permitted billionaire Igor Olenicoff to keep unauthorized copies of sculptures by John Raimondi after paying compensation to the sculptor.  Incidentally, the imitations were made in China.

Lead Image from People’s Daily.