In 1982, Karen Bystedt, a 19-year-old NYU student, cold-called Andy Warhol at his studio in Union Square and asked if she could photograph him.
A few years later, she packed the portraits in a box and moved to Los Angeles. But after she’d gotten settled, she couldn’t find them. She couldn’t remember if she had given the snaps away or just left them in some forgotten storage unit. Either way, she assumed they were lost forever.
But the shutterbug had a stroke of luck in 2011. After consulting with a “Tibetan monk named Darje,” Bystedt became determined to find the missing film. She spent two weeks going through two old garages, where she had dumped a bunch of belongings decades ago. In a termite-filled cardboard box, she struck gold: 10 of the original negatives, preserved in wax sleeves but covered in dust.
She and a friend spent four months digitizing and cleaning the images up, pixel by pixel. Bystedt, not content to merely publish the unseen photos, thought of a new way to make the most of her 15 minutes (OK, more like 90 minutes) with the pop icon: She invited contemporary artists to paint over and around her Warhol pictures, breathing new life into her old work.
So she began reaching out to artists seeing if they would be interested in putting their own stamp on her prints.
The response was overwhelming. Bystedt’s new exhibit, “The Lost Warhols,” opening May 1 at 178 Sixth Avenue in Soho, includes 66 different interpretations of her portraits from 34 artists.
“I really believe that [Warhol’s] spirit has been guiding me,” Bystedt tells The Post during an exclusive preview of the show.
It’s 10 in the morning, and Bystedt, a petite blonde, is wearing a sheer floor-length gown with dollar-bill appliqués, platform boots and green metallic lipstick. Her white, puffer-vest-clad lap dog, Snow Buddha, scampers around her feet. “I feel like Andy loves this,” Bystedt says of her work. “I think he would be thrilled with how good he looks.”
Bystedt was born in Israel, but lived in London and California as a child. As a photography student at NYU, she met lots of male models while assisting fashion shoots, and was photographing them for a book when she came across a Barney’s ad featuring Andy Warhol.
“He had that white crazy wig, he was wearing this sweater and he was leaning over these models, and I was like, ‘Wow, that would be really great to put Andy in my book!’ ”
So she called the offices at Warhol’s Interview Magazine, and the artist picked up the phone.
“I really believe it was fate,” she says.
Two weeks later, Bystedt was hauling a rented Hasselblad camera and lights to Warhol’s famed “Factory” on 14th Street. The artist was waiting for her in a tweed Perry Ellis suit, a striped knit tie, a neat wig — and a face slathered in pancake makeup.
Bystedt was thrilled he had dressed up, but told him, “Mr. Warhol, I really want you to look as good as possible, and I just need to help you fix this makeup.” He obliged.
She ended up taking 36 pictures, and published two in her book ,”Not Just Another Pretty Face,” published in 1983. Warhol came to its launch party — and that was the last time she saw him. He died in 1987.
Pieces in “The Lost Warhols,” which will be on view through May 22, are priced between $2,500 and $40,000. Fifty percent of proceeds sold will go to God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit that provides nutritious meals for New Yorkers who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves.
Bystedt says she can’t imagine a better tribute to Warhol. “Andy loved collaboration, he loved younger artists and he loved New York,” she says.
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