Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is arguably the most successful public artwork in the United States today. It draws the same number of annual visitors as the Statue of Liberty and Vietnam Veterans Memorial, yet derives its appeal solely through aesthetic pleasure not historical content. In short, it’s a people magnet.

Accounts of the work cite its mirrored surface as the active ingredient (which it is) but then settle for comparisons with funhouse mirrors or the joy of narcissism.

While true that the work’s close-range perceptual narrative initially engages the viewer in mapping themselves in a nonstandard visual field, that convex surface does a curious and wonderful thing: it visually situates each viewer not only in the context of the transformed landscape, but also — and more crucially — in the context of all the fellow viewers of the sculpture.

The movement of those others animates the surface in a way that could never be achieved by a single viewer… and animation (in its core cinematic sense) is the foundational property of our popular art.