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Light show transforms Millennium Park sculpture into a magic Bean

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Updated: March 11, 2012 8:48AM



Besides ice skaters, few folks spend much time at Millennium Park in winter. The Great Lawn is a frozen tundra. The Pritzker Pavilion performance space is barren. And while Lurie Garden still sports hearty breeds of flora, it’s not exactly bustin’ out all over.

So as to lure more visitors during these fallow months, a handsome sum was devoted to sprucing up the joint.

Thanks to a $100,000 tourism grant from the State of Illinois (culled from hotel-motel taxes), local artists Sean Gallero and Petra Bachmaier of Humboldt Park’s Luftwerk were hired to imbue the half-billion-dollar urban oasis with site-specific fun.

Using Anish Kapoor’s cityscape-reflecting, 110-ton Cloud Gate sculpture (a.k.a. “The Bean”) as a centerpiece, the married duo has devised a high-tech light show — dubbed “Luminous Field” — on the surrounding plaza. Complemented by music and dance performances, the $132,500 extravaganza debuts Friday and continues through Feb. 20, with viewings every evening from 6 to 9 (10 on Fridays and Saturdays).

Owen Clayton Condon of Chicago’s critically acclaimed Third Coast Percussion composed the soundtrack.

“Our hope is that people start to interact with our video and follow the light path that we create on the floor and just engage and play with the piece,” says Gallero.

It’s a lot to spend on fleeting amusement in what’s already a coddled part of town. But a state spokeswoman notes the Luminous Field grant is similar to others in the past, including one proferred by the state in 2008 for Millennium Park’s Museum of Modern Ice.

According to Kelly Jakubek, communication manager for the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, that event attracted more than 176,000 visitors, three-quarters of whom were from outside Chicago. She claims the influx of foot traffic was a boon to area businesses such as hotels and restaurants, which “reported increased activity.”

Earlier this week, on a clear and not-too-cold evening, Gallero stood beneath starry skies and tweaked his and Bachmaier’s creation. With help from an assistant on a nearby laptop computer, he stood at various points on AT&T Plaza and guided the positioning of a projected light grid so that it was precisely superimposed on cracks between large square slabs.

“Up one, back one, up one. That’s it right there. Hold it.”

Shrouded in darkness to his north, a group of white-costumed and white-faced dancers wielding white umbrellas — members of the local troupe Collaboraction — prepared to rehearse inside the still-unfinished grid. As they darted to and fro, the voice of Mary Wells, singing the mid-’60s Motown hit “My Guy,” wafted up from the brightly illuminated ice ring below.

Of 10 massive rectangular projectors employed to create Luftwerk’s animated, shape-shifting designs, the eight positioned to Cloud Gate’s east combine to form a single image that is 80 feet long by 30 feet wide. Two more projectors, on much shorter platforms, beam from the west.

Bachmaier and Gallero, graduates of the School of the Art Institute who’ve worked together for more than a decade, say “Luminous Field” is among their largest-ever commissions and definitely the highest profile one. The city has “absolutely been pushing this on a PR front,” Gallero says, “which we’ve never had before.”

Not long ago, Luftwerk transformed the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home Fallingwater, in southwestern Pennsylvania, with an inventive multi-media light show that metamorphosed its façade for a 75th anniversary celebration.

“Luminous Field” is far more interactive.

Says Gallero, “We’re just going to throw some projections on [the plaza] — colorful, gridded, very dynamic, very organic — and hopefully people will have a good time.”



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