Late in the evening on Wednesday April 23, 2014, the news of the Warhol Amiga recovery project was leaked a few hours early, and spread like wildfire over Twitter and then quickly across the blogosphere. I awoke the next morning to a string of text messages from the museum’s press officer Jonathan Gaugler with requests for comments and interviews. The response was so overwhelming that at a certain point a pounding migraine tuned everything out and I lost a few hours. I knew the Warhol images would spark some interest, but I never foresaw the deluge it unleashed out into the world.
The Warhol Amiga recovery project was a testament to the possibilities of local collaboration in a place like Pittsburgh. Three institutions pitched in, including The Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Mellon University (including notably the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and the Carnegie Mellon Computer Club), and Carnegie Museum of Art through the involvement and leadership of the Hillman Photography Initiative. At the helm beside me was artist Cory Arcangel who, through his infectious enthusiasm, got us all excited about the potential discovery of these works. However, the real heroes of the story are the members of the Carnegie Mellon Computer Club including the retro-computing stylings of Keith Bare and Michael Dille. When we started this project, Keith and Michael had never been to the Warhol Museum across town. By the end of this two-year project, they had by far the best understanding of the nuances of Warhol’s technological context working on the Amiga in 1985. Incredibly, the makers of the KryoFlux device (the emulator device the CMU Computer Club used to read the files housed on Warhol’s floppies) were so over the moon with the press the story had leveraged for the company, that they eventually tracked down Dille through his own online purchase history just to say thank you.
Second to the staggering 1.7 billion viewership the Amiga news had reached in just five days time was, in my mind, the feedback loop of comments. On the second day—after my own recovery—I revisited my email and spent a few hours sorting through the threads on a number of sites, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages that carried the story. Some declared Warhol the “original hipster” perhaps for his seemingly nostalgic use of 12-bit color, or perhaps as the progenitor of the original “selfie.” Arguments ensued about whether or not he had digitally “drawn” the Botticelli Venus. He didn’t—it was a stock image that came with the Graphicraft software application, and he simply cut and pasted in her third eye. Some compared the finished image to a “poorly tuned tv” and others heralded it as brilliant. One thing was clear above all else—his use of digital technology was undeniably prescient.
The Amiga 1000 had rather impressive graphic capabilities for the time. The number of colors available were unprecedented, clocking in at 4096 (although you could only use 32 colors at any one time). We know that Warhol and his team photographed the colorful Amiga screen at least once, capturing perhaps the best known and only certified artwork, the portrait of Debbie Harry marked and filled in yellows and reds (made infamous by the YouTube clip of Warhol with the Amiga at Lincoln Center in 1985). That work now lives in the collection of The Andy Warhol Museum. Whether or not the rest of the Warhol images are art is almost beside the point. The virality of this information and its almost instant multiplicity, repetition, and dissemination across the web is in some way the ultimate Warholian move . I was sure Andy was giving us a thumbs up from his peaceful spot six feet under across town. Where we go next is an open question. For now, let’s enjoy the moment of discovery.