The "Big Oil Bubble", a Chinese Knockoff of Chicago’s Famous “Bean”

Aug 13, 2015 1 comments

China’s latest knockoff of a widely recognizable landmark is taking shape in the city of Karmay. It’s a huge shiny, bean-shaped sculpture that bears a striking resemblance to Anish Kapoor’s “The Bean”, formally titled, "Cloud Gate," located in Chicago’s Millennium Park. According to Chinese news agencies, the sculpture is named "Big Oil Bubble" and was meant to resemble not the “Bean” but an oil bubble, to commemorate the site of the city’s first oil well. Karamay means “black oil” in the Uyghur language, and the “Big Oil Bubble” is said to be located where the first oil well was dug.

Like the “Cloud Gate”, Karamay’s “Big Oil Bubble” arches slightly off the ground, allowing people to explore its underbelly. But there are a few differences. The surface of the Chinese version is slightly warped to mimic the texture of oil, while the Bean’s surface is completely smooth. Many smaller blobs of metal, meant to represent drops of oil, surround the main bubble. The designers have also installed LED lights beneath the sculpture, rather than leaving it bare like in the original, that bounces off the shiny surface to create colorful, lightning-like streaks.


The "Big Oil Bubble" in Karamay, China. Photo credit

"Big Oil Bubble" has been under construction since 2013, but it was only widely unveiled last week. The artist behind the new installation is not yet known, but he came under fire quick, both in China as well as in Chicago.

"It's such an obvious copy. Our designers are embarrassing us," wrote one Chinese user on a microblogging site, hinting at the large number of replica architectures and artwork all across the country.

Karamay’s Tourism Bureau is protecting the artist behind the "Big Oil Bubble" and declined to reveal his/her name. Ma Jun, the chief of the planning and construction-management section, told in a phone interview to The Wall Street Journal:

“You can’t say we’re not allowed to build a round sculpture because there already is a round one. 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).”

Upon learning about the “Big Oil Bubble”, Anish Kapoor has made a statement saying that wants to sue those responsible for the Chinese sculpture.

In the past, China has made many copycat versions of famous landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge, the White House, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sydney Opera House and even an entire Alpine village of Hallstatt. And of course, replica iPhone and fake Nike shoes flood the market. The copycat culture is such rampant in China that there already is a name to it — Shanzhai. Shanzhai products sell surprisingly well in China and other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, owing to their low price yet good looks. In 2010, the Financial Times estimated that Shanzhai phones accounted for about 20 per cent of the global 2G mobile market.


The original: Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, Chicago. Photo credit


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The Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, Chicago. Photo credit


Aerial view of the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, Chicago. Photo credit

Sources: Chicago Tribune / Wall Street Journal / Hyperallergic


  1. Interesting article, but why not a possible plagiarism of Anish Kapoor and his "Tall tree and the eye" (2009) with the work from Heimo Zobernig "ohne Titel / Untitled" (2005)?

    [Seven meter high sculpture, consists of 139 hollow spheres made
    untreated, corrosion shared steel, only three of which form the base.]!2005/1005/W4/13110langenlois.jpg

    Just because one shines and the other not?
    What are we talking about?


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