PITTSBURGH — They aren’t exactly the Monuments Men, and it wasn’t art stolen by the Nazis.
But the technological sleuthing it took a group of Carnegie Mellon University students and alumni to recover and preserve some digital images apparently created and stored by Andy Warhol on old school floppy computer disks nearly 30 years ago is a tale worth telling.
The Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Mellon, and the Carnegie Museum of Art — which all had a hand in the project — revealed the story on Thursday in three news releases that included some of the images.
Those three images of an altered Botticelli’s “Venus,” a Warhol self-portrait, and a Campbell’s soup can — of 28 total that were found on the disks — were enough to excite Warhol fanatics around the world over the possibility that something — anything — new by the King of Pop Art had been revealed.
They were created on Mr. Warhol’s own Commodore Amiga computer in 1985 and included versions of some of his other most iconic images such as a banana and Marilyn Monroe, neither of which have been released, and may never be.
While the historic value will take more research and debate to be figured out, Matt Wrbican, the museum’s chief archivist, said the interest is understandable for one of the world’s most prolific and studied artists.
“It’s something that’s new,” he said, “and that doesn’t happen very often with Warhol.”
And, like the discovery of a missing, old world masterpiece, within hours of the Warhol discovery hitting the Internet and going around the world, Mr. Wrbican heard from someone who does not believe that Warhol himself created the images the computer sleuths found.
A man who worked with the now-defunct Amiga World magazine — which did a story in January, 1986, about Mr. Warhol and his use of the Amiga computer — called after reading a story about the discovery Thursday and said he “doesn’t think Mr. Warhol actually made a lot of those images,” Mr. Wrbican said.
Mr. Wrbican said he will talk more with the person who called — he could not recall his name — and “we’ll discuss it with him.”
But if the images were not solely created by Mr. Warhol — who died in 1987 — on the computer, it would not necessarily affect their historic value in helping to further understand him.
“Like a lot of his work, it was a collaboration,” he said.
Still, he said, even if Mr. Warhol had created the images all by himself, he noted: “I want to emphasize we’re not calling these art work. It was just Mr. Warhol learning a new tool.”
The museum knew it had Mr. Warhol’s Amiga computer and floppy disks for some time, Mr. Wrbican said, and accessing it “was something I’d wanted to do for awhile, but there are only so many houses in a day.”
It took a modern day, multimedia artist — and self professed Warhol fanatic — to get the ball rolling.
New York City artist Cory Arcangel was about to do a show at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh in August, 2011, when his curator, Tina Kukielski, asked if he had ideas for Pittsburgh-focused work.
One of the ideas Mr. Arcangel proposed was based on a video he found on YouTube of Mr. Warhol “painting” rock artist Debbie Harry on an Amiga computer in 1985 on stage at Lincoln Center in New York.
It was a slick advertising vehicle for Commodore to promote the launch of the Amiga, the first advanced multimedia art graphics computer. But it also put an Amiga in Mr. Warhol’s hands.
Mr. Arcangel then called his friend and Carnegie Mellon associate professor Golan Levin to see if he knew anyone with any retro-computer expertise.
As it turns out, Carnegie Mellon had an active and energetic Computer Club that has long been interested in issues surrounding outdated computer technology — not only for the historic value of learning how such technology evolved, but as a way to confront future archiving issues.
“We were not optimistic when we first saw the floppy disks,” said Keith Bare, a 2008 Carnegie Mellon master’s graduate. “They were system disks, not personal copy disks with something hand-written on them like ‘Andy Warhol’s images’ on them.”
It turned out the disks, as well as the computer they were created on, were beta versions of both, which made accessing the systems that much more difficult. But using a self-created program, and a program called a KryoFlux to allow a modern computer to interface with a floppy disk, they managed to pull the images up and save them in 2013.
The issues the team from the club had to overcome was Mr. Warhol’s old floppy disks “seem archaic,” said Michael Dille, a Carnegie Mellon doctoral graduate in 2013 who lives now in Sunnyvale, Calif., but was deeply involved in the Warhol project last year.
“But I think we’re going to have a lot of this in the future unless we start saving files in very standard file formats,” he said, not just for world famous artists, but individuals, business, government, and other organizations that need archives that are still on archaic formats.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sean D. Hamill is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Sean D. Hamill at: email@example.com or 412-263-2579.