As It Happens

Bean of contention: New sculpture fuels Houston-Chicago rivalry

A new bean-shaped sculpture unveiled in Houston earlier this week has ignited a cultural clash between Houstonians and Chicagoans.

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Column in Houston resembles his iconic Cloud Gate in Chicago

A couple stands beneath the 110-tonne stainless steel Anish Kapoor sculpture Cloud Gate in Chicago. Kapoor's newly unveiled Cloud Column sculpture in Houston quickly sparked a culture war as a vertical relative of Chicago's Bean. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)
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A new bean-shaped sculpture unveiled in Houston earlier this week has ignited a cultural clash between Houstonians and Chicagoans.

This week, Houston proudly unveiled the new sculpture outside the city's Glassell School of Fine Arts. Called Cloud Column, it is the work of British sculptor Anish Kapoor.

It closely resembles another iconic sculpture by the same artist called Cloud Gate and nicknamed "The Bean," which has stood in Chicago's Millennium Park since 2006.

It didn't take long for Chicago's detractors to pounce and denounce Houston's shiny new acquisition as a second-rate imitation.

Bean there, done that

"Unoriginal 4th Place Houston Gets its Own Bean Sculpture... Whatever," boasted the headline of a column that appeared Tuesday in the Chicago Tribune by reporter Kim Janssen.

In it, he derides the sculpture's environs as "a cultureless abyss" and suggests "the bean's verticality will ... act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices."

That sparked a rebuttal from Lisa Gray, an editor at the Houston Chronicle. 

"I snorted," she told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"He was clearly somebody who's never been to Houston. What is he thinking? So I sent him an email: 'It's on. You mess with my city, it's on.'"

'Our bean was the first bean'

The next day, Gray shot back with an open letter entitled, "Dear Chicago: Houston's Bean is Better. And so is Houston."

"Is Chicago feeling defensive?" she wrote. "How bad is it there, knowing that Houston is set to pass you in population? Are you feeling — well, to steal someone's joke from Twitter — like a 'has-bean'?"

She continued to defend her city on As It Happens.

"Houston is growing fast. It's energetic. Chicago is losing population. And you know, Chicago doesn't like that."

Janssen told the Washington Post his inbox was flooded with angry messages from Houstonians, and that he feels "a bit embarrassed for Houstonians at how easily baited they were."

But it's not just about the cities. It's about the beans, says Gray.

"I hate to tell  [Janssen] this, but our bean was the first bean," she said, explaining that the Houston sculpture was in fact the artist's prototype.

"Our bean was the one hand-made in the sculptor's studio. Their bean was contracted out. It's the secondary bean."

Gray insists that Houston residents are shrugging off comparisons out of Chicago of their bean's shape to a suppository or vibrator.

"Houstonians are out taking selfies with our bean. They say maybe it looks like a jalapeno or a vitamin pill."

She said Houston doesn't normally consider itself at odds with Chicago.

"If Chicago wants to start a fight, oh sure, we'll play," she said.

"Our bean is better. We're winning."

Written by Kevin Ball. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson.

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