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AMERICAN MOSAIC - A New Look at Andy Warhol's Lost Computer Art

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Modified digital art by Andy Warhol recovered from a 1985 computer. (Courtesy: Carnegie Museum of Art/Hillman Photography Initiative)
Modified digital art by Andy Warhol recovered from a 1985 computer. (Courtesy: Carnegie Museum of Art/Hillman Photography Initiative)

Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English. I'm Caty Weaver.

Today on the show we take a look at some recently recovered works by former pop culture artist Andy Warhol.

Artist Andy Warhol was best-known for his paintings of actress Marilyn Monroe and a large can of a Campbell's soup. But what few people remember is his experimentation with a computer called the Amiga. Warhol's art on that computer might have been lost if it was not for the work of an art and technology partnership. Marsha James reports.

Keith Bare is a computer software engineer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Entering the lower level of his house is like stepping into a computing time machine. His big equipment and noisy disc drives have spent years collecting dust in other people's homes.

Keith Bare belongs to the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club. Other club members call him the "Amiga Guru" or expert. The Amiga was a product of Commodore International. Back in 1985, the Commodore Amiga was the latest and greatest computer in the industry. The company got Andy Warhol to demonstrate its capabilities at an Amiga launch party. The artist used its image-making equipment and a revolutionary device -- a digital camera.

"He took some digital pictures and modified them before most people had been thinking about digital photography at all."

And that was all the public saw of Andy Warhol's computer art.

The artist died in 1987. His computer and its floppy discs were put into storage at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. They remained there for 25 years. That might have been the end of the story. But, then, Divya Heffley of Carnegie Museum of Art came across a YouTube video. It shows Warhol at the Amiga launch.

Ms. Heffley is producing a documentary series called "The Invisible Photograph." She knew Warhol's Amiga work should be included.

"Those drawings would have been lost."

That idea brought the Carnegie Museum of Art together with the Andy Warhol Museum and The Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club. All three wanted to recover the information from Warhol's Amiga computer.

The researchers were filmed as they explored the discs for the first time. Keith Bare said it took them some time just to learn how to use the software.

"Not only is it relying on the digital media surviving, another thing that we really don't think about it, is you also need to be able to have software that's able to understand the digital data."

But with some recovery software engineering work, they were able to make the discs work.

"There it is…"

"I think that…I think that that is a Warhol that nobody has ever seen before."

The famed images of a digital Campbell's soup can and Warhol's picture of himself are just some of the 23 images recovered from the floppy discs.

Divya Heffley says the search for the stored art is both a history lesson and a warning.

"If we're not careful technology will become obsolete, and we will no longer have the ability to see the photographs. To see the images we hold so dear and so precious."

The Warhol images can be seen on part two of Carnegie Museum of Art's "The Invisible Photograph." It is called, "Trapped: Andy Warhol's Amiga Experiments."

I'm Caty Weaver.

Do you have a question about American life, people or places? Send an email to learningenglish@voanews.com. We might answer your question in a future show. Join us again next week for another American Mosaic from VOA Learning English.

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