Never-seen-before Warhol art excavated from floppy disks

Cory Arcangel has recovered Andy Warhol's early adventures in computer art from old Amiga disks

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

Around 30 previously unknown works done by Andy Warhol have been recovered by the Brooklyn-based new media artist Cory Arcangel. The artist was part of a team that went digging through Warhol’s old Commodore Amiga disks – never before looked at – and discovered some of Warhol’s experiments in early digital art.

Arcangel, a self-confessed Warhol fanatic, was browsing YouTube videos of the artist when he came across Warhol painting Debbie Harry on an Amiga computer (below). His interest piqued, he reached out to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh to see if they had any more of Warhol's digital artefacts. Whilst the Debbie Harry picture was in the museum's collection, evidence of Warhol's other computer art adventures was only found after an extensive search uncovered the old Amiga and some floppies. 

The Amiga 1000 computer might be dated and retro today, but it was once pioneering technology. Its manufacturers, Commodore, elected Warhol as the man to help promote the launch of the Amiga 1000, commissioning him to create works on the computer. In order to recover the images, Arcangel enlisted the help of Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club, a team renowned for their expertise in dealing with obsolete computer technologies. Magnetic imaging tools had to be used to copy data on the floppy disks to ensure that no damage was done to the original floppies, and the files were formatted in an unknown format that was not recognized by any modern utility. The team managed to crack the antiquated format, revealing 28 images that hadn't been seen before – 11 of which were signed by Warhol.

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

Chief archivist at the Warhol Museum, Matt Wrbican, wondered how Warhol would have adapted creatively to the advances in technology that have been made in the 21st century: "No doubt he resisted the urge to physically touch the screen – it had to be enormously frustrating, but it also marked a huge transformation in our culture, the dawn of the era of affordable home computing. We can only wonder how he would explore and exploit the technologies that are so ubiquitous today.”

It isn't the first time that Cory Arcangel has been involved with the process of recovering media from difficult situations – last year he teamed up with Oneohtrix Point Never to make a track called “Joyvtl Jvbuayf” that was technically unlistenable, unless you had the dated software to play it.

Speaking about his hero Warhol, Arcangel said, "What's amazing is that by looking at these images, we can see how quickly Warhol seemed to intuit the essence of what it meant to express oneself, in what then was a brand-new medium: the digital."

A documentary about the painstaking recovery process has been made and will be shown at the Warhol Museum on May 10.

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