The dollar sign is one of the most potent symbols of our time, and as a master at identifying and appropriating the zeitgeist of America in the 20th century, Andy Warhol revisited this symbol many times throughout his career. As he writes in his famous compendium of "quotable quotes," he writes that "[m]aking money is art and working is art and gold business is the best art." (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York, 1975, p. 92).
Beginning with his 1960s paintings and drawings of dollar bills, Warhol portrayed paper currency, using its design as an easily repeated motif akin to the S & H Green Stamps and Coke bottles. By the 1980s, Warhol chooses instead to highlight the "$'' symbol centered in superimposed silhouettes of varying color on a field of bright color. As with all Warholian iconic images, there is ambivalence to the meaning of the sign – is it a critique of the hegemony of American culture or a celebration of it? Is it a sly ironic comment on the commercialism of the art world and Warhol's place in the growing affluence of contemporary artists in general and himself in particular? In a wry nod toward the status gleaned by collectors, Warhol has been quoted as stating in 1975, "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. 133-134).
In the present work, a lone dollar sign -- in all its drippy, graffiti-ed glory -- exaggerates the cartoonish qualities of the American paper economy. Painted in 1981, the year President Reagan was elected to office and exactly ten years after the U.S. went off the gold standard, the present work seems to speak for its era even more so than Warhol's previous depictions of money. The decade to come – flush with cash, drugs, and televised pop culture – might have been, ironically considering his death in 1987, the era Warhol most personified.
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