Pop artist Andy Warhol is famous for his Campbell’s Soup and colorful Marilyn Monroe screen prints. However, many do not realize Warhol also directed and shot hundreds of films and videos over a decade-long period.
The Andy Warhol Museum (The Warhol) is partnering with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and digital effects company MPC to restore and digitize almost 600 films made by Warhol, many of which have never been seen by the public.
Warhol’s films , originally shot on 16mm film, have been stored and maintained by MoMA since the 1980s. Rajendra Roy, head of the film department at MoMA, says that while some of Warhol’s films have been digitized at various resolutions for exhibitions, this project will be all-encompassing.
“This is an effort to make them available, all of his films available, on high-quality, high resolution 2K scans, and to store them digitally as well,” Roy said.
Right now, anyone who has the proper projector to play 16mm films or who can come to New York City for a screening can watch Warhol’s material at MoMA. However, the difficulty of working with an outdated medium like film means much of Warhol’s material remains unseen.
“No one’s really seen a lot of this material before, or at least handled it since Andy actually shot it and it came out of the camera,” said Justin Brukman, managing director at MPC NY.
Brukman and Roy hope that this project will increase public exposure to the films.
“I think that putting the films out there is just completing the picture that we’ve been trying to supply about Andy Warhol,” said Geralyn Huxley, curator of film and video for The Warhol. The Warhol holds the rights to the films, and has approximately 70 titles on location in Pittsburgh.
Roy emphasized that the digitization was not necessary to preserve the films.
“Film will last hundreds of years in the proper conditions, which we’re very fortunate to have at our film preservation center, which is actually in Pennsylvania, in Hamlin Pennsylvania,” Roy said.
In fact, Roy explained digital copies are actually harder to store and need to be updated every time digital equipment goes through an overhaul.
According to Roy, the conversion is only to increase the ease with which the films can be shown and lent out.
Warhol first started making films in 1963, with Sleep as his debut. Many short Screen Tests and even some feature length films followed.
“These are observational films, or films he took almost in a diaristic fashion with his friends,” Roy said. “Many of them are amazing documents of the time and his collaborators and his friends, other artists working in the New York scene of the 60s and 70s.”
The digitization and restoration will take at least a year, since each frame has to be scanned in and working with artwork takes great care and thought, said Brukman. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether effects on the film, such as scratches and dust specks, should be removed.
“The fascinating part is looking at those and together with the museum and MoMA, deciding what was initially intended by Andy and what needs to be, you know, cleaned up and processed,” Brukman said. “When it comes to pieces of art, what becomes very interesting is that the act of digitization is actually part of the artwork.”
There are no immediate plans for how to share and display the films after they have been converted, nor has a price tag for the project been determined yet.