Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Andy Warhol
1928 - 1987
signed and dated 81 on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
50.1 by 40.3 cm. 19 3/4 by 15 7/8 in.
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Martin Lawrence Editions Ltd., Los Angeles
Private Collection, Los Angeles
Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in 1994)
Christie's, London, 9 February 2006, Lot 199
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Dollar Sign offers a vibrant and dazzling example of one of Andy Warhol’s most celebrated bodies of work, which probes the nuanced binary between fine art and commerce, aesthetics and monetary influence. Saturated and pulsating with colour, the sweeping, lyrical shape of the ‘S’ vibrates against a tangerine background. Here, the artist offers the ubiquitous symbol of commodification and consumerism as an icon, rendered with chromatic brilliance.

At the dawn of the Pop-era, in the 1960s, Warhol first translated the image of the American Dollar onto canvas. In his seminal Dollar Bills paintings, silkscreened dollar notes float on a stark white background. The celebration of commerce, executed in this infinitely serial technique, ignited a career long obsession with mass consumption and supremacy of semiotics. Decades later, Warhol revisited his dollars against a starkly different cultural and societal backdrop: the glamorous and glittering zeitgeist of a New York that was on the cusp of a financial boom. Manhattan saw an enormous influx of wealth in the 1980s, and subsequently placed a cultural emphasis on money, sex and power. 

Money became an obsession for Warhol: “I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a… 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 money on the wall” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, New York and London 1975, p. 180). Perhaps, it was Warhol’s personal biography that drew him to the subject; the artist’s childhood was spent in depression-era Pittsburgh before fleeing to New York City. Additionally, Warhol’s experiences as a commercial illustrator, a profession in which art and commerce walk hand in hand, may have fuelled this fixation on finances. In his Dollar Sign paintings, the artist elevated American currency to an almost metaphysical status, venerating the symbol with an almost religious sense of devotion.

The Dollar Sign paintings were first exhibited at Leo Castelli’s Greene Street Gallery in 1982. The seemingly endless succession of dollar signs on the wall transformed the art space into a veritable temple of financial worship. With these paintings, Warhol plucked the dollar sign as a symbol from the dollar bill as an object. By the 1980s, the dollar sign had become a potent emblem, not just of status and wealth, but also of aspiration, desire and the American Dream. In this series of paintings Warhol brashly redefined the parameters of fine art, shedding the cloak of its ‘pious exclusivity’ of fine art and laying bare the intimate and entangled relationship of art and commerce. In Dollar Sign, the artist celebrates a system of exchange in which he willingly and enthusiastically participated. This reinvention of the subject stands as a testament to Warhol’s unparalleled ability to elevate brands and symbols to the status of icons, Furthermore, the artist’s extraordinary ability to appropriate, subvert and reinvent the motifs of consumer culture becomes pervasively apparent. The Dollar Sign paintings form a pivotal body of work that perfectly reflects their maker’s own glittering transformation from artist to icon.

Contemporary Art Day Auction