Warhol’s lurid banana blurs line between real and copy

Liz Hobday |

Andy Warhol created his banana image in the 1980s using a new computer program.
Andy Warhol created his banana image in the 1980s using a new computer program.

Among the Warhols on display at a pop art show on the Gold Coast is a digital image of a banana, an unconventional work that has raised a few eyebrows.

The piece is an NFT, or non-fungible token, a commodity used in the art world but invented decades after Warhol died in 1987.

Curator Bradley Vincent said the piece has prompted some quizzical looks from gallery-goers.

“There’s not much surprising in the world sometimes – it feels like a surprise at the end of the show,” he told AAP.

Non-fungible tokens use blockchain technology to create unique digital collectibles – including, in this case, an image of a banana.

Featuring a shade of brown that suggests it’s well past ripe, combined with a lurid yellow-green, it’s not a piece of fruit that anybody would want to eat even if they could.

More appetising is the tale of how Warhol came to posthumously participate in the NFT market.

In the 1980s, he had what might be called a proto-influencer deal with the computer company Commodore, which wanted to promote its new software program ProPaint.

Commodore gave Warhol an Amiga 1000 and in 1985 he used the program to create a series of five digital images, which included the banana, two self portraits, a flower and an iconic Campbell’s soup can.

For many years, the pioneering digital works were thought to be lost as they existed only on floppy disk in an obsolete file format.

But computer experts were able to recover them in 2014 and they were turned into NFTs that were “minted” and auctioned off.

The original ProPaint files measured just 320 pixels by 200 pixels, while the artworks auctioned by Christie’s were 4500 pixels by 6000 pixels.

It was controversial at the time – was this reproduction copying and commodification, or more like a digital conservation effort?

Were they actually Warhols, or more like the prints for sale in the gallery gift shop?

But Mr Vincent said that with Warhol, the question of authenticity didn’t matter.

The art market didn’t seem to care too much either: the five NFTs were auctioned for a combined value of more than $3 million, with the money going to The Andy Warhol Foundation.

The banana is one of 54 pop art works on show at Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection and Mr Vincent said the public had loved the adventurous exhibition.

“People are really embracing it in that spirit, it’s the kind of exhibition that people having a fun time in,” he said.

Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York is on at Gold Coast’s Home of the Arts (HOTA) until June 4.

AAP travelled with the assistance of HOTA.