top of page

Andy Warhol : Silver Clouds
Engineers : Billy Klüver, Harold Hodges


Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds at Castelli Gallery

Installation view of Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds at Castelli Gallery, 1966. The Andy Warhol Foundation

In 1965 at Andy Warhol’s studio, “The Factory,” on 47th Street, Warhol asked Billy Klüver for a floating light bulb. Calculations were made by Klüver's colleagues at Bell Laboratories, and they discovered it was not feasible with existing battery technology: the bulb would have to be as big as a house. While he was working on the idea, Klüver's  neighbor showed him a material called Scotchpak™ which was relatively impermeable to helium and could be heat sealed. It was used by the United States Army for wrapping sandwiches. Klüver brought this material to Andy, who decided he wanted to use this material to make clouds. While the engineers were figuring out how to heat-seal curves and balance the clouds, Warhol simply folded the material over and made his own version of Silver Clouds. He created weightless sculptures.

The Clouds were filled with 1/3 helium and 2/3 air. Klüver discovered they could be  made to stay in the air by adding or taking away paper clips as weights. Because of the heat gradient between the floor and the ceiling, the balloons could balance perfectly in the air or move very slowly up and down. The sculptures have a wonderful buoyancy as they hover gently in a room.

They were first shown at Leo Castelli’s gallery in 1966. The front room of the Castelli Gallery was filled with several dozen helium-filled silver balloons, while the room next to it was wallpapered with repeated images of cow heads. The balloons danced 30 to 50 inches off the ground, reflecting distorted images of the surrounding space on their shiny surfaces. They moved constantly according to drafts, changes in room temperature, and static electricity.  Viewers became involved with the Clouds: they touched, and  pushed them around, watching them jostle in the air.

Merce Cunningham used Warhol's Silver Clouds, floating on the stage as a set for his 1968 dance RainForest, with music by David Tudor.  However, some of the Clouds did have to be tied down to keep them from floating off the stage into the audience.

bottom of page