At the opening of “Andy Warhol: Silver Clouds” at Rosslyn’s Artisphere last week, an orderly line outside the exhibit dissolved into chaos just inside the door of the Terrace Gallery.
A tornado of oversized silver balloons whirled in the center of the room, while a pair of sisters on the outskirts of the storm batted one another with the pillow-shaped inflatables. When the smaller girl dropped her weapon, a man in a suit sent it airborne with a kick, causing it to pinwheel into a toddler, then smack into a wall.
This is just the scene that Jose Ortiz, Artisphere’s executive director, had in mind when he decided to bring the installation to the gallery.
“Museums are usually full of rules: Don’t touch, don’t get too close to the art,” he says. “When I saw ‘Silver Clouds’ for the first time, it felt like I was breaking all the rules.”
Warhol’s balloons are certainly accessible, but the exhibit has a high-art backstory. The 150 balloons careening around Artisphere right now are not the same ones that the pop artist debuted in New York in 1966. Rather, they are brand-new balloons, manufactured in Chicago to Warhol’s original specifications.
The idea for the installation came out of a collaboration between Warhol and Bell Labs engineer Billy Kluver, when, in 1964, Warhol asked him to create a floating light bulb. That proved impossible, but Kluver returned with a new type of material called Scotchpak, which Warhol used to make the clouds.
“When you think about this happening in the ’60s, it really was groundbreaking to have art and technology put together,” Ortiz says. “It’s a great complement to our presentations of current artists who are engaging with technology.”
That includes local artist Emily Francisco’s “The Trans-Harmonium: A Listening Device,” a playable keyboard that generates sound through clock radios. (It’s on view through January.) This and “Silver Clouds” are big hits with both kids and the young at heart, Ortiz says.
“It’s a totally different kind of exhibition that allows you to touch the work and become a part of it,” he says.Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; through Oct. 20, free; 703-875-1100. (Rosslyn)