Culture Rover

#94 - Clouding Judgment

The recreation of Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds exhibition is one of many things that makes the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh worth a trip.

The silver, helium-filled balloons float through the room on currents of air, touching the walls and gallery viewers gently, at once silly and deeply sensuous, maniacally innocent and polymorphously perverse.

I take Silver Clouds not as an avant-garde gesture of epater le bourgeois, but rather as an evocation of the sensations that art and the aesthetic can provoke. That is, Warhol's exhibition asks what we mean when we say a work of art has "touched" us?

Warhol being Warhol, he pushes the metaphor of "touching" to its pleasurable -- and troubling -- limits. Silver clouds of helium literally touch the skin of the viewer, and in doing so, the balloons burst into artistic metaphors.

We are in the clouds. We can feel art's power -- its tactility and its etherealization -- simultaneously. We are glamorous, silver tinsel. Our bodies have vanished into -- and become -- the canvas. We and art occupy the same air, bouncing off each other. Materiality and abstraction. The art is kinky and goofy, simple and boundless, quietly murmuring and screaming its message. We act and it reacts, it acts and we react, in a mutually-constitutive dance.

Conceptual art here is the same as tactile art. Embodiment is disembodiment is embodiment once again. We move through Silver Clouds, unsure of whether this touching art amounts to nothing but fantasy -- or if this measures everything there is.

25 May 2006

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