Cloud Column, 1998–2006
Anish Kapoor, British, born India, 1954
Stainless steel
351 × 130 × 80 in. (891.5 × 330.2 × 203.2 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Habits of Mind

  • OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
  • SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications

Cloud Column (Art)

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking. 

Curriculum Objectives

  • Evaluate expressive properties such as the content, meaning, message, and metaphor of artwork
  • Identify and explore the relationship between music and the visual arts 

GRADE LEVEL

9

10

11

12

SUBJECT AREA

Art

HABITS OF MIND

Observe Details

Synthesize

Connecting to the Work of Art

Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Column” stands over two stories tall, rising 32 feet toward the sky and weighing 21,000 pounds. This massive free-standing sculptural work, located in the Brown Foundation Inc. Plaza, encourages ambitious manipulations of form and space to be perceived. The highly reflective surface of polished stainless steel animates the gathering place adjacent to other sculptures in the Roy and Hugh Cullen Sculpture Garden. Cloud Column was conceived in the late 1990s, completed in 2006, and installed in Houston in 2018. It is a singular work within a decades-long engagement encapsulating what the artist has called “defining space.” It was assembled entirely by hand in London, with the artist on site, dictating where he wanted surfaces hammered and welded. It was five years in the making and polished for another three years. Upon its arrival and installation in Houston, a single member of Kapoor’s London team perched on a cherry-picker and buffed the stainless-steel surface to its signature sheen, a process that took up to six hours. Unlike nearly all of Kapoor’s related sculptures, Cloud Column’s stainless-steel surface has been hand-worked, evoking the human touch.

Cloud Column has two very different sides; one side is beveled outward, while the other side is concave. The oblong form’s concave “front” faces the Glassell School of Art, inverting the structure, its surroundings and the viewer in its reflection. As the viewer stands below the sculpture the world is turned upside down with the viewer at the top and the clouds at the bottom. The sculpture’s convex side summons an interplay between the stainless surface and its surroundings, which reveals a direct reflection of the world around it. The play between the convex and concave surfaces establishes a dual reality, as the elongated core of the sculpture presents the world upside down, bringing the heavens down to earth. Kapoor challenges us to investigate how physics is manifested in this shiny ellipse.

Cloud Column gracefully invites us to contemplate not only the object itself, but also how we position ourselves in relation to the world around us. The highly polished stainless-steel surface reflects every nuance of light and at the same time captures the surrounding landscape. Kapoor’s works of art often allude to and play with dualities of earth/sky, lightness/darkness and visible/invisible.  

Conversation Starters

​Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking, and be careful about making assumptions.

Observations

  • Observe dualities at work in this sculpture. Elaborate and justify, using evidence from the work of art.
  • How is this work of art related to Isaac Newton? Explain.
  • How could the principles of physics relate to this sculpture?
  • Compare Cloud Column to a telescope.

Connecting to the Classroom

For students who may come from disparaging backgrounds or simply have less exposure to the arts, this work of art becomes important because it expands the capacity of the human mind. It begs the question of importance, relevance and functionality. For students it is important to be challenged in ways that get beyond the current scope of one’s thinking and ultimately one’s imagination. It opens up the space for students to then see themselves or contemplate alternate realities, solutions…it is important for students to engage in creative practice that opens the realm of possibilities and helps them to consider life beyond the current moment, situation or challenge. It thereby supports positive risk-taking in the classroom by helping to lay the foundation for an expanded mindset. 

Assessment

This work of art speaks to the creating, imagining and innovation habit of mind. It is something that many students in the demographic that I teach may have never seen. It pushes the realm of possibilities in terms of what is art and the role of art in our world. The piece itself is expansive and echoes the sky and the viewer at once. Careful introspection will open the door for expansive conversations and contemplating the possibilities…much like a walk in the clouds of one’s imagination

Subject Matter Connection

Use the image to discuss Cloud Column as a warm-up at the start of class.

Observe this contemporary work of art while teacher reads a quote from museum director, Gary Tinterow (source: Hyperallergic online art magazine) with accompanying music entitiled “My Piano, The Clouds” by contemporary Italian composer and pianist Fabrizio Paterlini:

  • “I think much more than ‘Cloud Gate,’ ‘Cloud Column’ is meant specifically to capture the heavens and bring them down to earth. From the north, one stands in front of it and you see the clouds — and Texas is famous for these enormous cumulus clouds — hand-delivered to you right at eye-level. That’s the specificity of this work.”

Elaborate on how the quote and music invite us to further contemplate, not only the object itself, but also how it captures the surrounding landscape.

Explore more details of Cloud Column using the conversation starters. 

Notes

Learn more about this artist at Art21: https://art21.org/artist/anish-kapoor/


The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider