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behind the scenesAndy Warhol’s Silver Clouds: More Than Just Hot Air.

My name is Matthew DiClemente and I work as one of the Art Handlers on The Andy Warhol Museum’s exhibitions team.  The other art handlers and I do many jobs around the museum – some glamorous, others not so much. Some of our tasks include the installation and deinstallation of the art, building crates and frames, shipping and receiving artwork, and accompanying artwork when it leaves the museum. One of our most difficult jobs however, is keeping the Silver Clouds exhibition looking good.

One of the most mesmerizing pieces at The Warhol is Silver Clouds, floating metallic ‘pillows’ hovering in space allowing viewers to become physically enrapt in the installation. Defying gravity and expectations, you may have wondered just how Silver Clouds works, and what the daily behind-the-scenes maintenance entails.

A Silver Cloud’s lifecycle is chocked full of variables and varies greatly from balloon to balloon. Some balloons last a full 7 days, while others don’t make it past the inflation process. Other factors that affect a balloon’s longevity include random mishaps, Clouds crashing into one another, valve malfunction, and patron interaction; the Clouds are actually quite delicate. One of the more surprising influences on the Silver Clouds are fluctuations in atmospheric pressure.

Silver Clouds arrive at the museum bundled and folded in small boxes. Art handlers inflate them before the museum opens, and are changed out every Friday morning (or on an as needed basis).  It takes approximately 3 minutes to inflate a new Cloud, and the new gallery holds 25 Clouds comfortably.

A little known fact about Warhol’s Silver Clouds: They are filled with a proprietary mixture of regular air and pure helium.  The goal is to give them enough lift to get off the floor, but not so much that they stick to the ceiling. Due to their gaseous nature, some mornings the balloons require extra attention. Changes in barometric pressure in combination with the aforementioned mishaps can take out an otherwise “happy and healthy” Cloud in a matter of hours.  The Cloud’s quality also changes throughout the day, and often times takes additional refreshing. Taking care of the Clouds could easily be a full time job!

Be sure to swing by the museum and check out the Silver Clouds in their new home on the 5th Floor!