PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1999
Nice, Palais Massena, Andy Warhol, 1982
Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, 1997, n.p., no. 3, illustrated in colour
New York, Van de Weghe Fine Arts, Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, 2004, p. 57, no. 15, illustrated in colour
Money is my MOOD.”
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York 1975, p. 136.
Epic in scope and monumental in scale, Dollar Sign (Yellow) superbly encapsulates Andy Warhol’s ability to utilise and re-invent a potent symbol of consumerist driven culture through his inimitable Pop aesthetic. Forming part of the iconic series of Dollar Signs which the artist worked on in 1981, the present work is a magnificent explication of one of Warhol’s primary, career-long, concerns: the social, cultural and creative potential of the American dollar as signifier of status and wealth. Originally based on an ink drawing of a dollar sign by Warhol himself, the present work emblazons the motif in deep blacks and warm earthy tones against a vibrant yellow background, packing a highly arresting visual punch. One of the most instantly recognisable Warholian themes, the dollar sign reflects the complete synthesis of art and money within his oeuvre, as well as its creator's own apotheosis from unknown commercial artist to international high-art superstar. First exhibited at Leo Castelli's Greene Street gallery in 1982, the grandly-scaled Dollar Signs afford an insight into Warhol’s enduring fascination with American commodity culture. Filling the expanse of the vast canvas, this larger-than-life symbol of wealth is rendered with the immaculate clarity of Warhol's silkscreen technique, which had reached a peak of exquisite stylistic assurance by this mature phase of the artist’s career.
The subject of money represents a key leitmotif within Warhol’s oeuvre, charting the changing times of his life as well as the process of his creative development. Rolled up dollar bills stuffed into soup cans had provided the subject for his earliest and most iconic drawings and paintings before becoming the subject for his first silkscreened series in early 1962. Re-creating the front and back of a dollar bill by means of a pencil drawing, Warhol commissioned a printing shop to make silkscreens of the images: this technical breakthrough was to have profound and far-reaching consequences for Warhol’s artistic production, forming the basis of his creative output for the remainder of his career. The dollar bill as chosen motif for these earliest silkscreens was highly significant, revealing the immense importance of ‘greenbacks’ for Warhol as a decorative item as well as a culturally and socially loaded signifier of wealth. Making reference to the appearance of dollar bills, Warhol once declared that: “American money is very well-designed, really. I like it better than any other kind of money. I’ve thrown it in the East River down by the Staten Island Ferry just to see it float” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York 1975, p. 137). The later series of Dollar Signs, of which the present work is a supreme example, can thus be seen as building and elaborating on this early idea, employing a semantic representation of the endlessly familiar dollar sign in contrast to the actuality of the bill itself.
Serving not only as a creative stimulant for Warhol throughout his career, the dollar bill also provided the artist with a crucial reference point for his examination of contemporary American consumer culture. The artist famously declared that: “Americans are not so interested in selling. What they really like to do is buy” (Andy Warhol, ibid., p. 229). Like his Marilyn and Elvis paintings, Warhol's dollar paintings inherently reference the concept of desire: sought after concomitants of a glamorous and successful lifestyle. In a statement that acquires a magnificent irony when connected specifically to the Dollar Signs, Warhol commented: “I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall” (ibid., pp. 133-34).
Instantly recognisable worldwide, the dollar sign has an emotive resonance which hugely exceeds its relatively simplistic form, being indicative of hope and aspiration as well as financial and social security. Powerfully re-invented through Warhol’s signature bold style and technique, Dollar Sign (Yellow) and its counterparts become endowed with greater significance than that of mere monetary signage, arguably becoming representative of the American Dream itself. Questioned on his own opinion of the American Dream, Warhol gave a characteristically caustic, yet pragmatic, response: “I don’t [believe in the American Dream], but I think we can make some money out of it” (Andy Warhol quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Van de Weghe Fine Arts, Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, 2004, p. 22). In their brilliantly saturated hues and dynamic composition, the Dollar Signs are redolent of possibility and potential: evocative of a society in which anyone can theoretically start with nothing and achieve anything.
Warhol’s creation of the Dollar Signs brilliantly reflected the zeitgeist of a particular era: New York in the early 1980s was on the cusp of an explosion of new wealth and conspicuous consumption which would see the rapid rise of prices for younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel alongside an increasingly conspicuous display of wealth in tandem with the rapid growth of the financial markets. Christophe Van de Weghe reinforces this idea, arguing of the series that: “Literally emblematic of the fascination with commodity culture that underlies all of Warhol’s work, the Dollar Signs don’t just depict the symbol for American money; the paintings are themselves cultural currency” (Christophe Van de Weghe in: ibid., p. 9). Encapsulating the excitement, glamour and sense of possibility that existed in the cultural scene of New York during this period, Dollar Sign (Yellow) is a bravura encapsulation of Warhol’s glittering world, in which money and celebrity were the primary coinage of recognition.
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