Andy Warhol and the Amiga Experiments

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The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has announced the discovery of new works by the Pop Art artist, only these works are not on canvas but rather floppy disks. The nearly 40 disks had been stashed in the museum’s archival collection for almost 30 years. Warhol created the experiments on an Amiga computer in 1985. The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Computer Club, a student organization known for their extensive collection of obsolete computer hardware, extracted the saved files in a complex recovery process.

The Amiga experiments were the result of a commission by Commodore International to demonstrate the computer’s graphic arts capacity. The images vary from simple doodles and camera shots to experimentation with iconic Warhol artworks such as Marilyn Monroe and Campbell Soup.  However, as part of the archives since 1994, the images on the disks have been unattainable because of the obsolete format.

It all began on Tuesday, July 23, 1985 in New York. Commodore International presented a “revolutionary piece of computing technology” – the Amiga personal home computer. As part of the promotion, pop artist, Andy Warhol was asked to give a demonstration on the computer’s Pro Paint program. He strode onto the stage with Debbie Harry, the Blondie rock group’s singer.

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The incentive to learn what was on the disks came when artist, Cory Arcangel discovered Warhol’s Amiga project from a 1985 YouTube video, which showed a young Warhol promoting the release of the Amiga 1000. In the video, it revealed an undeniable Andy Warhol with his legendary silver-platinum hair, black turtleneck and oversized pink-rimmed glasses. Before he began to guide the mouse across a pad, Debbie Harry fixed her hair and asked, “Are you ready to paint me?”

In 2011, Archangel visited Pittsburgh and spoke with the chief archivist at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA). The enthusiasm for the hunt of Warhol images began in 2013 and was a collaborative effort. A CMOA video crew followed the progress, and it became a segment in a five-part documentary, The Invisible Photograph that looks at the photography world with a method to retrieve inaccessible or complex images.

According to the museum’s director, Eric Shiner, “Warhol saw no limits to his art practice.”  The computer-generated experiments demonstrated Warhol’s inclination to embrace something innovative, and in this case, new media. Shiner also stated that in many circumstances, it “defined his practice from the early 1960s onward.”

The trove of images also shows how an artist like Warhol, who had approximately 50 years fostering a precise hand-to-eye skillfulness was now unexpectedly “grappling with the bizarre new sensation “ of mouse and screen, noted Warhol archivist, Matt Wrbican. The archivist also pondered how Warhol would have made use of the technologies that are so omnipresent today.

Twenty-eight images were recovered but are not available to the public, yet.  Three of the images, however, were made available to the press – Botticelli’s Venus, self-portrait and the iconic Campbell’s soup can.

This is not the first time that efforts have been made to recover Warhol artworks from disks. In 2001, the Detroit Museum of New Art uncovered a few floppy disks and restored them. Those floppy disks had 20 images of Marilyn Monroe that became part of a multimedia opera, You Are the One in 2006.

More recently, Commodore International’s former chief financial officer, Don Greenbaum discovered  floppy disks in 2011. He retrieved nine works including Andys, Money and Cycle1 found on the 1980s “rudimentary digital technology.” Greenbaum must wait to publish the works as their ownership is established. The contract between Commodore and Warhol is lost, thought to be housed in the museum archives. However, with no contract and the company since parted, it is unclear who owns the rights and whether the works can be published.

By: Dawn Levesque
@GLVarts

Images courtesy of The Warhol Museum

Sources:
CNN
Newsweek
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Warhol Museum

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