silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas
200 One Dollar Bills is the monumental masterpiece from Warhol's first series of silkscreened paintings and is a powerful declaration of the genesis of Warhol's major contribution to art history. Warhol had already revolutionized American art by restoring representation and objective imagery to painting in the startling guise of common, everyday objects such as Campbell's Soup Cans, comics, magazine advertisements and newspaper headlines in late 1961 to early 1962. But the `Pop Art' revolution was not complete until Warhol discovered the artistic technique that would give him the freedom to exploit his new approach to subject matter. Warhol responded to the post-war world's media and consumerist saturation by seeking a form of art that would remove the hand of the artist, creating the same sense of distance and disconnect that was emerging in the world around him. Earlier Warhol had painted projected images and used stencils and rubber stamps, as formalist experiments, but silk-screening would prove to be his perfect muse. Screening was a mechanical process, and represented an intervention between the artist and the canvas; but in his usual contradictory manner, Warhol would subvert his own intention of ``mechanized art'' by using the process to create an unending variety of images of both beauty and emotional impact, as well as ground-breaking influence. The series of ``Dollar Bill'' paintings were done in March-April 1962 and Warhol's first silkscreens were created from ink drawings he made on acetate, picturing the fronts and backs of one- and two-dollar bills. Later that year, Warhol expanded his silkcreening experimentation with the photo-silkscreen process in paintings such as Baseball (August 1962, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City).
The ``Dollar Bill'' series consist of predominantly small paintings of single dollar bills (some shown front and back), with only 10 paintings of dollar bills done in serial or group formats. 200 One Dollar Bills and 192 One Dollar Bills (collection of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Collection Marx, Berlin) are the two largest paintings, one a horizontal format and the other a vertical. The present work was screened over a soft gray ground that would become the base color most often used by Warhol at this early stage of his oeuvre, while 192 One Dollar Bills was screened on a light green acrylic ground. As counterpoint to the gray ground and black ink, Warhol screened the U. S. Treasury Seal in a deep blue, providing a counterpoint that brightly activates the overall composition. Warhol had fist used the structure of repeated imagery in 200 Campbell's Soup Cans (Powers Collection), 100 Cans (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo) and 100 Campbell's Soup Cans (Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt). But these paintings were created prior to his silkscreen technique and were more laborious, involving layers of stencils for the different colors and different parts of the soup can. Such an involved technique did not lend itself to the artist's wish to produce a large number of works using the same image - as he would ultimately do in his `Factory' and as he initially conceived with the multi-panel, individually framed 32 Campbell's Soup Cans (Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York) shown at Ferus Gallery. More importantly, Warhol's earlier methods did not lend themselves to his ulitmate goal; a repetitive multiplicity of one image within the same work. In discovering his silkscreen technique with the dollar bill image, Warhol created his first true serial masterpiece, in subject and technique, with 200 One Dollar Bills.
In one other important aspect, 200 One Dollar Bills is a quintessential painting of its time: its provenance is the storied collection of Robert and Ethel Scull. The Sculls' fortune derived from taxi cabs and they were New Yorkers to the core. They were also one of the earliest couples to collect and support the Pop Art movement, moving on from their earlier activities in collecting Abstract Expressionist art of the 1950s. They are still renowned as premier patrons of American Art in New York at that time and virtually became synonymous with Pop Art through their collection and their relationships with the artists. In addition to Warhol, their collection included masterworks by Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, George Segal and Mark di Suvero to name a few. The Sculls provided the financial backing for the seminal Green Gallery (1960-1966) in New York, directed by Richard Bellamy and 200 One Dollar Bills was one of two Warhol paintings purchased by the Sculls from the Green Gallery. The Sculls also owned other early works by Warhol: a 1962 Small Campbell's Soup Can (Tomato - Ferus Type), Big Torn Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot) and 100 Cans (now in the Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York). 200 One Dollar Bills was purchased by the present owner at Sotheby's from the sale of works from Robert Scull's estate in 1986, an event that was referenced in the artist's obituary the following year.
In addition to Warhol's 100 Cans, the quality of their collection has yielded a significant number of works now considered among the most important of the time and in major museum collections today, including one of Warhol's most important and earliest serial portraits. Ethel Scull 36 Times (Ethel Scull 35 Times) (June-July 1963) is the famous result of the artist's first session in a photo-booth with a subject, and this pivotal work is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. James Rosenquist's monumental F-111 (1964-65) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and their Jasper Johns' 0 Through 9 (1961) set the auction record for a drawing by a Contemporary artist when it sold in November 2004 for $10.9 million. The cover lot for Sotheby Parke Bernet's sale of fifty works from the Scull collection in October 1973, Jasper Johns' famous ale cans titled Painted Bronze (1960), is in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Basel.
The importance of 200 One Dollar Bills goes beyond the use of silkscreen and its history of ownership to another long-lasting cornerstone of Warhol's aesthetic practice: seriality.
As stated previously, the monumental ``Dollar Bill'' serial paintings are the second earliest serial paintings, executed after the large stenciled soup cans. The advantages of screen-printing are its quality as a form of pure reproduction, capable of multiple repetition, with great efficiency and neutrality. Warhol had now found the ideal medium to de-personalize the production of his art works, and at the same time, the method appealed to his visual sense. With the high contrast between `figure' and `ground', the association of ink with print media and the ability to endlessly repeat a single image, Warhol's art was forever changed. In the consumer world, his first large-scale serial painting of soup cans mimic the confounding sight of the packed display shelves in American stores that spoke of great prosperity and overabundance in post-war society. The ``Dollar Bill'' series was followed by works such as 210 Coca Cola Bottles (June-July 1962, Daros Collection, Switzerland), referencing an even more international symbol of American consumerism. Warhol could also now freely adopt a filmic presentation that mirrored the pervasive presence of electronic and printed imagery in the world of the 1960s: films, television and newspapers saturated modern life through repetition. The technique of photo-silkscreening that began with Baseball was put to its most poetic use in the Death and Disaster paintings of 1963 that capture the raw humanism of tragic events in the cool detachment of repetitive, mind-numbing ubiquity. Warhol's celebrity portraits, which mined the rich dichotomy between public and private persona, also reached their apogee in the great Marilyn diptychs such as Marilyn's Lips (August-September 1962, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.).
The subject matter of 200 Dollar Bills was even more suited to Warhol's themes of seriality, consumerism and universal imagery than his famous soup cans. As the ultimate symbol of desire and attainment, status and worth, need and greed, the dollar bill is without peer in its internationalism and potent symbolism. Like the S&H Green Stamps, actual money is printed on large sheets of paper, and thus begins its life as a serial image before it is distributed into the wider world. But more importantly, its primacy as international currency was in its ascendance and the post-war boom in America was a recognized phenomenon, as the dollar bill became a symbol of America in its essence just at the time Warhol captured it as art. By repeating the image on a canvas of such large proportions as 200 Dollar Bills, the impact in relation to human scale is overwhelming and the message is clear. The viewer's field of vision is filled with an expanse of dollar bills, as we lose ourselves in an enveloping, overall image, with as much revolutionary impact as Pollock's drip paintings of an earlier generation. But Warhol dismissed the need for self-referential and expressive gestures; his intent is to mirror our world back to us in a manner that highlights the impersonality, the ubiquity and the over-abundance of our material surroundings. There is more than one apocryphal story as to the original source for money as a subject for Warhol. In one story Eleanor Ward, the director of Warhol's first major gallery, the Stable Gallery, claimed that she promised Warhol his first one-man show in exchange for a painting of her lucky two dollar bill. In another version, an art and antiques dealer named Muriel Laptow suggested Warhol paint what he liked best, and his answer was ``money.'' The general basis for most of these stories is Warhol's concept of money as a commodity, and the artist famously spoke of how art could be interchangeable with money hanging on the wall. But in relation to 200 One Hundred Dollar Bills, his most pertinent sentiment is the role of this image in his adoption of the silkscreen. In 1977, the artist stated in an interview, ``I started [silkscreening] when I was printing money. I had to draw it, and it came out looking too much like a drawing, so I thought wouldn't it be a great idea to have it printed. Somebody said you could just put it on silkscreens.'' (Glenn O'Brien, ``Interview with Andy Warhol, High Times, no. 24, August 1977, p. 34).
The apparent simplicity and naiveté of Warhol's work and the initial criticism of it as too readily recognizable and too accessible to qualify as art has long been confounded. As one who appreciated irony, Warhol could enjoy the controversy of his ultimate recognition and success, as well as his deeply significant influence on younger artists that followed him in the 20th Century. As the decades pass, Warhol's place in the pantheon of American artists becomes ever more strongly established and the rare major works from the inception of his `Pop Art' aesthetics, such as 200 One Dollar Bills, are testaments to a pivotal moment in art history.
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