Preview: Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds @ Artisphere
August 7, 2013 | 1:00PM

We’ve all looked up to the sky and wished we could grab a cloud to use as a pillow. Now, this dream can become a quasi-reality with Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds exhibit, set to come to Artisphere in September.

Photo by Nat Finkelstein; ©Estate of Nat Finkelstein

Silver Clouds is a simple concept: 150 human-sized, metallic balloons floating around in a big room. They aren’t tied down, flowing through air currents created by strategically placed fans. It’s interactive, visitors of the exhibit are allowed to “play with the clouds” whether it be hugging, poking, or smacking. You can lie on the floor or run through the exhibit. You’re free to do whatever you want to feel a part of the exhibit. “It’s all about getting to interact with Andy Warhol when you would never get a chance to otherwise,” said Artisphere spokesperson Annalisa Meyer.

Won’t hitting the balloons cause them to deflate or pop? It won’t. Warhol used a material called Scotchpak, which is impermeable to helium, to create these clouds. He then heat-sealed the balloons so not as much air can escape from the balloon.

Warhol didn’t come up with the Scotchpak idea alone. He utilized the help of engineer Billy Kluver in creating this unique and interactive exhibition. Initially, Warhol went to Kluver to create giant floating light bulbs, but, unfortunately, there was no way to create such a thing due to the weight of the materials. That’s when Kluver brought up the idea of using Scotchpak to Warhol. From there evolved the idea of giant floating silver clouds. Simple, yet brilliant.

Silver Clouds made its debut in 1966 at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Since then, it has been shown in museums throughout the country.  But, “it has never been in this region before,” said Meyer. Artisphere in Arlington, Va., is currently raising money, $10,000 be precise, through Indiegogo to bring the exhibit to them on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. While admission into the exhibit will be free, Artisphere needs the money for its upkeep through October. Upkeep includes having three staff members filling the balloons for 8 hours a day to keep them up in the air.

“We wanted to engage the audience and the public to bringing Andy to Arlington,” said Meyer. “I think the idea of the public participating and connecting to art would excite [Andy]. He was the king of challenging people about commercialism and what’s more commercial than asking for money?”

What happens if Artisphere doesn’t reach its $10,000 goal? Yeah, the incentives to donate are great, but not everyone has the funds to donate. According to Meyer, the exhibit will go up regardless. If they can’t raise the funds, they have several supporters who will help. In regards to the money they raise on Indiegogo, “We get the money regardless of whether or not we reach our goal,” said Meyer.

“This installation is all about the intersection of art and technology which is very relevant to what Artisphere is all about, “ said Meyer. Artisphere wants to connect audiences to artists who use technology in their work. This intersection was considered a landmark in the 1960s when artists and scientists existed in totally separate spheres; their combination to create something beautiful was groundbreaking. Engineer Billy Kluver once said, “Artists and engineers are separate individuals, and if they work together, something will come out of it that neither can expect.

Artisphere has several programs planned to accompany the installation’s month-long stay. One of the programs is a new media installation by Spanish artist Sergio Albiac who creates what he calls “generative video painting.” Similar to a video mosaic, but much more mathematical. It involves an algorithm that takes specific videos from YouTube to create portraits. The pieces Artisphere will be showing include, “Content is Queen” (Queen Elizabeth II), “Living Legend” (Marilyn Monroe), and a special commissioned piece for Artisphere of Michelle Obama. Her specific portrait will consist of videos of her platforms and causes.

Other than Albiac’s installation, there will be a dance workshop and performance in the exhibit with the clouds (a nod to Merce Cunningham’s performance with the exhibit in the 60s). Lastly, there will be a dance party titled “Night of 1000 Andys” with an Andy Warhol look-alike contest, pop art costumes, and live music.

If you’ve ever dreamed of walking on clouds, or just love wacky ol’ Warhol, head to Artisphere this September. It’ll be great for all ages and you won’t have to constantly remind your kids, or yourself, not to touch the artwork.


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