What is it?
1500 helium-filled balloons shaped like silver pills covering a gallery ceiling.
What influenced it?
Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds, 1966 was the inspiration behind this work. The playful character of the balloons were undermined as they gradually lost helium and crumpled to the ground. General Idea played with this notion and turned the balloons into pills, branding them like pharmaceuticals with both the work’s title and the artist trio's name.
What happened to the balloons?
The walls of the exhibition were labelled: “Visitors are invited to take balloons that have floated to the ground”—not something you see too often in an art gallery. In picking up the balloons and taking them home the viewers became involved in the dissemination of the work.
What was the notion behind the multiple?
It is a profound and moving reaction to the aids epidemic which had affected two members of the artist collective, Partz and Zontal who would eventually die from the disease in 1994. The one surviving member AA Bronson explains “We were all surrounded by pills (magic bullets), and the pill became a kind of sculptural form that we turned into our art.” The fateful decline of the balloon pills and their ephemerality as they descended, sheds light on the appalling losses to HIV suffered by the gay community in New York throughout the 1990s. General Idea were instrumental in raising awareness of the disease and its impact on society.
What is its value as a multiple?
By producing a multiple that disseminated itself through its audience and eschewed issues of copyright and ownership, General Idea produced something radical and wholly in line with their beliefs. As they cryptically declared: “We entered history, seized hold of images, emptied them of meaning, and reduced them to shells. Then we filled the shells with glamour, the creamy puff-pastry innocence of vacuity, the awful silence of shark fins cutting through oily water.” By the production and distribution of their own artworks General Idea were critiquing firmly established art world structures, but also in allowing visitors to take the fallen artwork home with them they were undermining traditional art market economies.
What does it do at auction?
When Art Metropole first sold the work in 1992 it sold for 100 dollars. Owing to its gradual distintegration by visitors taking the balloons away with them there is no traceable auction sale even though the work has been recreated for various exhibitions, including at TORRI in 2013. Nevertheless, the original multiple remains a moving testament to General Idea’s work and its aims to subvert established art world norms through explorations in distribution and reproducibility.