Hoffman's Houston
coulda' bean a contender

Ken Hoffman weighs in: Houston could've 'bean' more original in the great Chicago cloud battle

Houston could've 'bean' more original in the great Chicago cloud fight

MFAH Cloud Gate Bean Houston
The Cloud Column is strikingly similar to Chicago's Cloud Gate.  Courtesy image

Have you been following the high-brow trash talking between Chicago Tribune and Houston Chronicle columnists?

Houston unveiled a sculpture called Cloud Column in the Museum District last week that looks very similar to a sculpture called Cloud Gate that’s been sitting in Chicago since 2006. Both sculptures look like a bean. In fact, Chicago’s sculpture is commonly called “The Bean.”

Chicago’s is resting horizontally. Houston’s is standing vertically. Both sculptures are by British artist Anish Kapoor.

A Chicago Tribune columnist used the lookalike works to unleash a torrid, yet confused and scattered, attack on Houston — for being unoriginal, uninspired, and generally inferior. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

Well, the Houston Chronicle would have none of that, and fired back with vocabulary-stretching defenses of Space City. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Hey, it’s a battle over art, not a food fight (my specialty). It can’t get too down and dirty.

And back and forth it still goes. 

I know the drill well. For years, whenever Houston was bashed in the media, usually by obese sports columnists with short-sleeved dress shirts soaked with sweat, Chronicle editors assigned me the task of having Houston’s back. I was the unofficial head Houston cheerleader.

I’d respond with the usual: how world leaders who hate us come to the Medical Center to get healed up from cancer, acres of parkland, golf courses, Tex-Mex restaurants, space shots, job opportunities, international trade, the Port of Houston, warm winters, Fortune 500 companies. I could write that “Why Houston is better than ______ (fill in the blank)” column with my eyes closed. I had enough practice.

True story: after sportswriters blasted Houston during the 2004 Super Bowl, ABC World News Tonight invited me on to defend my city. They asked me where I wanted to do the interview. I said, “How about the corner of Sage and Richmond?”

I stood on the Northeast corner — with the Men’s Club over my shoulder. Our strip clubs are better than _______ (fill in the blank), too.

Just as the interview started, a Men’s Club security guard ran out and yelled at us to move. We could have held our ground, we were on a public street, but you should have seen the size of this guy. So we moved. I think Pete’s Fine Meats got some free national publicity that day.

This Bean Battle shouldn’t be a contest between Chicago and Houston. That’s not a fair fight. The mic drop is: people are leaving Chicago to live in Houston.

The real issue is, why would Houston invest in a sculpture that is, let’s face it, practically a copy of a statue in Chicago? By the same artist who did the sculpture in Chicago? A Bean lying on its side and a Bean standing up — that’s not different enough.

I’m not knocking the artist. I’m informed that Kapoor is a renown sculptor admired by critics. He has works in major cities around the world. A reader emailed photos of Kapoor’s pieces. Only two look similar. We got the second one.

Turns out, Houston’s bean was created before Chicago’s, and sat in storage for years. Doesn’t matter. Chicago’s went on display first, so theirs is first.

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Glassell School of Art are behind our Cloud Column. They hope our Bean will become a tourist landmark, a public treasure, a symbol for Houston.

You want a symbol for Houston? How about a sculpture of a young family hammering a “Sold” sign on their first home? 

I’m not an art critic. I know very little about art. I had no idea there was a sculpture of a bean in Chicago. But I have seen the Venus de Milo in Paris, David in Florence, the Pieta in Rome and the Rocky statue in Philadelphia. There’s no confusion what city they’re in.

If Chicago unveiled a piece of art, and it looked almost identical to Waterwall Park, we’d be screaming, howling, and laughing — and calling Chicago unoriginal, uninspired, and inferior. Chicago would be fair game for us.

What do you think we did? We — sort of — copied Chicago’s Bean sculpture. We’re offended by the ridicule coming from way up I-45? Worse, we’re surprised? The story of the battling beans has been picked up by media around the country. In most cases, Houston is the butt of the joke. Ten thousand sculptors out of work, we couldn’t find something else?

Why didn’t we order a sculpture and call it the Leaning Tower of Eiffel? Then two cities could be mocking us.

Our sculpture is an Elvis imitator, Diamonique, a vegan hot dog, Webster sitcom, funny money.

Chicago got over on Houston — this time.

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What's your take on Houston's Cloud Column? Let Ken know in the comments, or on Twitter.