Andy Warhol’s ‘Silver Clouds’

In the mid 1960s, Warhol began to move away from painting, both mentally and artistically. Silver Clouds was his retirement from painting, a transformative idea of art as a physical experience, the opposite of revered and fragile paint works.

Created in collaboration with engineer Billy Kluver, Warhol described them as “paintings that float”. Inspired by the army ration plastic film packaging ‘Scotchpack’, the balloons were first launched from the roof of Warhol’s silver factory.

The pillows were inflated such that they constantly moved around the room in an active exhibition. It is thought that the silver shine represented density, the otherness and human fascination in the qualities of objects lighter than air. The effect is accomplished through a precise mixture of regular air and pure helium, all held within the Mylar material.

Art handler Matthew DiClemente recalled that “Some balloons last a full 7 days, while others don’t make it past the inflation process”, making the installation volatile and fragile due to the barometric pressure.

As with many of Warhol’s works, the balloons had a distinct sense of fun and playfulness. Visitors played amongst the art, becoming a part of it’s movement in a fluid rebellion against the stiff dominance of minimalism in New York at the time.

After seeing them in exhibition, choreographer Merce Cunningham requested to use the pillows for a performance of RainForest combined with music from David Tudor. Although denying Warhol’s request for the performance to be nude, the pillows’ reflection of movement fit perfectly, with many floating into the audience in the initial 1968 show.

All images Andy Warhol.