Warhol digital artworks found on floppy disks from 1985

A team from Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Club in the US has found a series of previously unknown digital artworks created by Andy Warhol for Amiga Computers in 1985 and stored on floppy disks

Andy Warhol, Andy2, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visuals Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

A team from Carnegie Mellon University‘s Computer Club in the US has found a series of previously unknown digital artworks created by Andy Warhol for Amiga Computers in 1985 and stored on floppy disks…

The team consisting of artists, computing experts, and museum professionals discovered 12 experiments by Warhol on disks stored in the archives of The Andy Warhol Museum.

According to the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry (FRSCI) at CMU, the artworks were a result of a commission by Commodore International in the mid-80s.

Keen to demonstrate the graphic arts capabilities of the Amiga 1000 personal computer (shown at bottom of post), Commodore approached the artist to create a series of digital pieces on prototype Amiga hardware and with state-of-the-art software imaging tools.

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visuals Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

The project began when New York-based artist Cory Arcangel first learned of Warhol’s Amiga experiments via a YouTube video of the Commodore Amiga product launch.

With the support of Carnegie Museum of Art curator Tina Kukielski, Arcangel then approached the Andy Warhol Museum in December 2011 about restoring the Amiga hardware in the museum’s possession.

He then contacted CMU art professor and director of the FRSCI, Golan Levin, who offered a grant to support the investigation – and Levin also introduced the artist to the university’s Computer Club, which boats expertise in ‘retrocomputing’, the restoration of vintage computers. However, after working on the disks, the club discovered that even reading the information stored on them risked damaging their contents

According to FRSCI, most of the disks were “system and application diskettes” onto which Warhol had apparently saved his own data (including files such as ‘campbells.pic’ and ‘marilyn1.pic’) in completely unknown formats.

Andy Warhol, Venus, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visuals Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

The Club persevered, however, and managed to resurrect 28 digital images that were verified by the Warhol museum (eleven of which feature Warhol’s signature). The images were made using processes such as ‘pattern flood fills’, ‘palletized color’, and ‘copy-paste collage’.

Throughout the investigation the team’s efforts have been documented by the Hillman Photography Initiative and the resulting short film, Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, will premiere on Saturday May 10 at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Pittsburgh (7pm).

According to FRSCI, the screening will be followed by a conversation with some of the team’s key players, including artists Arcangel and Levin; Michael Dille, who just completed his PhD in robotics at CMU, and Keith A Bare of the CMU Computer Club; and outside guest Jon Ippolito, a professor of digital media curation at the University of Maine.

The Trapped documentary will then be available online at nowseethis.org on May 12.

A detailed report (PDF) about the CMU Computer Club’s retrocomputing work on the Warhol/Amiga image recovery project can be found here. The works were extracted from the disks by members of the CMU Computer Club, CMU’s Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry (FRSCI), the Hillman Photography Initiative at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), and Arcangel. See warhol.org.

Commodore Amiga computer equipment used by Andy Warhol 1985-86, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

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