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Current Project Warhol and the Amiga

Ongoing

An old Amiga computer with a colorful self portrait of Andy Warhol on the screen

Recreation of Andy Warhol’s Amiga based on original objects found the museum’s archives.

In the summer of 1985, Warhol was given his first Amiga 1000 home computer by Commodore International and enthusiastically signed on with the company as a brand ambassador. For their launch, Commodore planned a theatrical performance, which featured Warhol onstage at Lincoln Center with rock ’n’ roll icon and lead singer of Blondie, Debbie Harry. In front of a live audience, Warhol used the new computer software ProPaint to create a portrait of Harry. He later made a series of digital drawings including a Campbell’s soup can, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and flowers. The video of the launch performance and these early computer-based artworks are a testament to Warhol’s engagement with and embrace of new technology.

Although Warhol spoke about the desire to print these images and distribute them as artworks in an interview in Amiga World, this wish never came to pass. In 2014, we collaborated with Carnegie Mellon University and Carnegie Museum of Art to extract the saved files from Amiga floppy disks held in our archives collection. In the Pittsburgh premiere of the Amiga installation, visitors can experience Warhol’s digital drawings on an interactive model created by The Warhol in collaboration with local design studio Iontank.

Unearthing Warhol’s Digital Art

A man and a woman crouch over a desk. The woman wears blue disposable rubber gloves, holding a pencil in one hand and a floppy disk in the other. The man wears a red sweater and bright blue baseball cap and watches the woman as she takes notes.

Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Commodore went bankrupt in 1994, and Warhol’s digital images were frozen on obsolete hard drives and disks in the archives of the museum for nearly 20 years. In 2014, contemporary artist Cory Arcangel organized a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museum of Art, and The Warhol to recover the lost drawings. The team spent months extracting the data and reverse engineering the original software to be able to view the files.

Computer Competition

In the early 1980s, home computers were a competitive market and technology companies were vying for marketing and branding opportunities. Commodore and Apple were two companies that lead the race. Although Warhol signed with Commodore first, he met Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, Inc., a year earlier at a birthday party for Sean Lennon, the son of musician John Lennon and artist Yoko Ono.

Warhol recorded his first encounter with Jobs in his Diaries. On Tuesday, October 9, 1984, Warhol writes:

. . .there was a kid there setting up the Apple computer that Sean had gotten as a present, the Macintosh model. I said that once some man had been calling me a lot wanting to give me one, but that I’d never called him back or something, and then the kid looked up and said, ‘Yeah, that was me. I’m Steve Jobs.’ And then he gave me a lesson on drawing with it…I felt so old and out of it with this young whiz guy right there who’d helped invent it.

Although Warhol never produced drawings on the Apple computer, he used Apple’s logo in a portfolio of prints in 1985. The series, called Ads, also included trademarks for Chanel, Paramount, and Mobil.

If I had a good computer I could catch up with my thoughts over the weekend if I ever got behind myself. A computer would be a very qualified boss.

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 1975