Paintings That Float: Warhol’s 'Silver Clouds,' Revisited

Andy Warhol, 'Silver Clouds', 1966

Featuring artwork by Andy Warhol ©/®/™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.; ™ Hopper

First installed in 1966 at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery, Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds was initially conceived of as a farewell to the artist’s painting career, just as Warhol was nearing the height of his artistic powers. “Since I didn’t want to paint anymore,” he said on the occasion of the work’s debut, “I thought […] that I could give that up and do the movies. And then I thought that there must be a way that I have to finish it off, and I thought the only way is to make a painting that floats.”

The result was fifteen gleaming, mirrored pillows, echoing the ethereal interior of Warhol’s original 47th Street clubhouse, the aptly-named Silver Factory. Filled with such a mix of ambient air, helium, and nitrogen as to hover almost eerily in mid-air, the “clouds’” motion is impacted by the movement of visitors. Though the balloons’ chrome-like, metallic appearance suggests density, it is contrasted sharply by their airiness and the uncanny manner in which they bob through space. Working directly on the installation with engineer Billy Klüver was a fundamentally Warholian choice, too, in its marriage of high and low, industry and art. This unlikely medium stands as a major liberation of craft: artworks unmoored, quite literally, from the pedestals or gallery walls to which they would typically be confined. A watershed moment of modern art, Silver Clouds was a rare and iconoclastic piece of its time which blurred traditional boundaries of the relationship between artwork and viewer.

As the latest iteration of CALVIN KLEIN’s unique, ongoing partnership with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the house has reimagined Silver Clouds as a site-specific installation for the 654 Madison Avenue flagship. Recreated in the same ratio as Warhol’s original work more than five decades ago, under the eye of CALVIN KLEIN Chief Creative Officer Raf Simons, the balloons have been printed with images found in the Spring 2018 CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC runway collection: the twisted metal wreckage of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, and portraits of confidantes Dennis Hopper and Sandra Brant. Untethered, they float through the space just as they would have in 1966, inviting interaction from visitors, their macabre prints drawing dynamic contrast to the dreamily Pop canvases on which they have been printed.

  • Printed artworks:
  • 5 Deaths, 1963
  • White Car Burning Twice, 1963
  • Ambulance Disaster, 1963-1964
  • Little Electric Chair, 1964-1965
  • Dennis Hopper, 1971
  • Sandra Brant, 1971
  • Cowboy Boots, 1978
  • Knives, 1981-1982
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Featuring artwork by Andy Warhol ©/®/™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.; ™ Hopper