You might not know it, but the famed Pop artist dabbled in digital art back in the 1980s. According to Artnet, in 2014, digital files were recovered of obscure Andy Warhol artworks – digital images created on his personal computer, Commodore’s Amiga 1000, using an at the time new computer software called ProPaint that was never actually released.
On Thursday, five of those images were auctioned by Christie’s New York, with the early digital artworks as NFTs, giving collectors a chance to own Warhol art on the blockchain for the very first time. Each artwork began at a starting bid of $10,000, with the sales attracting over 200 bidders. The pieces, created by Warhol in a paint program on his computer, include two self-portraits NFTs, which sold for $870,000 and $562,000 respectively, his signature flower, which took $525,000, an image of a banana, which sold for $250,000, and his iconic Campbell’s soup can motif, which earned $1.17 million.
The record sale was only marred by one issue of content: are these digital artworks just glorified fakes?
For Christie's, transforming Warhol’s work into NFTs brings a new form of life to his work while guaranteeing its authenticity and uniqueness. However, for some observers in the art world, this sale raises many questions about said authenticity, with some even going so far as to call the works on offer fakes.
Winning bidders of the Andy Warhol: Machine Made series received a 4,500 by 6,000-pixel TIF image as a 27-megabyte file – even though the original files were digitally excavated from 1.4-megabyte floppy disks. But according to Golan Levin, Director of the Studio for Creative Inquiry, these upscaled files shouldn't be lauded as Warhol originals when they're essentially “altered, 2nd-generation near-copies.”
“It should be clear that a 6000x4500 image in Amiga's uncompressed .PIC format could not possibly fit on a 1.4MB floppy, nor in the Amiga 1000's 512kb RAM,” Levin wrote on Twitter, “I'm not sure if your collectors care that they're bidding on a secondary by-product, but I would.”
However, according to The Andy Warhol Foundation, the formatting is a variable that doesn't impact the works' authenticity. In a statement to Highsnobiety, the Foundation explained: "There is no question of authorship in this matter and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible and wrong."
"This is an intellectual difference of opinion about which file size and format is more appropriate for minting an NFT – an unreadable file on an inaccessible, deteriorating floppy disk or a restored and preserved file. As the guardian of Warhol’s legacy, the Warhol Foundation is empowered to choose the format most suitable for minting these 5 NFTs. In making our decision to use tif files, we were guided by Warhol’s artistic intention for these pioneering digital works and our goal that they be preserved in a format to be enjoyed in posterity."