Sotheby’s, New York, 15 February 1991, Lot 178 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Sotheby’s, New York, 15 May 2013, Lot 238 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Money is a key leitmotif within Warhol’s oeuvre. Rolled up dollar bills stuffed into soup cans had provided the subject for his earliest and most iconic drawings and paintings and he had often commented on the beauty of the dollar bill itself: “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 dollar motif was also the subject for Warhol’s first silkscreened series in 1962, for which he had re-created the front and back of a dollar bill in pencil, before commissioning a printing shop to make to make silkscreens of the images. This technical breakthrough was to have profound and far-reaching impact for the rest of his career. However, it was more significant in conceptual terms. In appropriating this specific icon of his age, Warhol intentionally blurred the lines between art and money and inverted the traditional role of the artist: he installed the US Federal Reserve as designer and asserted himself instead as regulator and distributor. In Dollar Sign, Warhol transcends conventional artistic boundaries and accedes to a new status: governor of the Pop bank and custodian of a brand new global currency.
The dollar bill provided Warhol with a reference point for his ontological examination of American consumer culture. The artist famously stated that “Americans are not so interested in selling. What they really like to do is buy” (Ibid., p. 229). In this light, we understand the dollar motif as an object of inherent desire; sought after concomitants of a glamorous and successful lifestyle. The Dollar Signs are icons of the Warholian age, akin to his portraits of Elvis and Marilyn in their total ubiquity and universal appeal. In a statement that acquires magnificent irony when connected to these works, Warhol once 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).
Warhol’s return to the dollar as an artistic subject in 1981, after a 20 year hiatus from his first engagement with it, 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. The ensuing years would witness the rapid rise of prices for younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel and a concurrent boom in financial markets. Dollar Sign encapsulates the excitement of that period and emblematises the glamour of the contemporaneous downtown scene. This shimmering painting of brilliant yellow is a bravura encapsulation of Warhol’s glittering world, in which celebrity, art, and desire were the primary currencies of recognition.
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