Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1997
Hamburg, Deichtorhallen Hamburg; and Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstervein Stuttgart, Andy Warhol – Retrospektiv, 1993-94, p. 148, illustrated in colour
Seoul, Ho-Am Art Gallery, Andy Warhol: Pop Art’s Superstar, 1994, p. 95, illustrated in colour
Lucerne, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Andy Warhol: Paintings 1960-1986, 1995, p. 149, no. 77, illustrated in colour
Paris, Galerie Jerome de Noirmont, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 1996-97
Allison Unruh, ‘Signs of Desire: Warhol’s Depictions of Dollars’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2011, p. 137.
Created in 1981, Andy Warhol’s Dollar Signs are a superb manifestation of perhaps the most salient inquiry in Pop art history: the relationship between art and commerce. Warhol’s lifelong fascination with money as a ubiquitous symbol of wealth, power, and status spans his entire oeuvre as a key leitmotif and inextricably links his art with his own biography. As such, the Dollar Signs stand in direct reference to Warhol’s works from the early 1960s in which he first employed the silkscreen to transfer dollar bills onto canvases. Returning to this iconography as a mature artist in the 1980s, the Dollar Signs not only scrutinise the dichotomy between low and high art that is so quintessentially Warholian, but also confront the prominent American symbol as a potent visual instrument charged with ambiguous significance. Similar to his feted portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, or images of mass-market consumables, such as the Campbell’s Soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles, the Dollar Signs explore the universal recognisability and semiotic power of cultural icons that comprise everyday life.
Presented as part of To The Bearer on Demand, the colossal Dollar Sign and the two intimately scaled Dollar Signs are exemplary of this important eponymous series. Commanding monumental proportions, the imposing Dollar Sign canvas impresses through a mix of powerful and fluorescent pink, yellow, orange and green tones. The larger-than-life dollar sign is silkscreened in Warhol’s idiosyncratic printing technique against a sleek and flat blue-grey background. While painterly in essence, the graphic quality is very much palpable through the vivid and expressive movement of line, particularly the hatchings visible in the lower half of the sweeping S shape. On a much more intimate scale, echoing those of votive icons, are the two small Dollar Signs. With an exceptional combination of colour and line these paintings form a stunning visual alliteration of Warhol’s iconic art/money dialectic. Articulated in expressive colours and extolling the graphic fluency of Warhol’s stylised dollar sign drawings, the large and small works are archetypal of the chromatic brilliance and cartoon-like aesthetic that defines the series.
When first exhibited at Leo Castelli’s Greene Street Gallery in 1982, the seemingly endless succession of dollar signs on the wall transformed the space into a veritable temple of financial worship articulated in the artist’s inimitable palette of bright Pop colours. The deliberate repetition of an instantly recognisable icon of mass culture seemed to openly celebrate and embrace consumerism and commerce. Just as Warhol’s first exhibition of Flower Paintings at Castelli in 1964 had provoked critical debate for the repeated display of a singular subject, so did the Dollar Sign exhibition of 1982. At the time, art was still somewhat celebrated as an arena for “pious exclusivity” that was supposedly above and beyond the earthly or vulgar realm of monetary value (Trevor Fairbrother, ‘ABC Dollar’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Van de Weghe Fine Art, Andy Warhol: Dollar Signs, 2004, p. 14). Warhol, however, seems to have anticipated the global art boom and the resulting influx of wealth that was about to define the 1980s, a period that would openly celebrate and even endorse the marriage of art and money. As Warhol poignantly put it himself, “Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. After I did the thing called 'Art' or whatever it's called, I went into business art. I wanted to be an Art Businessman or a Business Artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business they'd say, 'Money is bad,' and 'Working is bad,' but making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and back again), Orlando 1975, p. 92).
Repeating the emblem of capitalism ad infinitum, the Dollar Signs form a conceptual and political pendant to Warhol’s earlier Hammer and Sickle paintings (1976-77). Juxtaposing the iconic emblem of Communision and its attendant Marxist theories of value based on labour with the capitalist theory of value based on exchange, Warhol exposed the iconographic power of symbols that represent antagonistic value systems during the Cold War years. The ritualised repetition of the US dollar sign as charged with social and cultural meaning also recalls Warhol’s contemporaneous Crosses, a series that the artist created in the very same year. Similar to appropriating the most recognisable symbol of Christianity, Warhol now utilised the dollar sign as the ultimate emblem of a consumer society in order to display a sort of modern-day secular religion. Emblazoned by Warhol in monumental proportions and excessive seriality, the dollar sign quickly became a potent signifier of a capitalist culture that had replaced the cross and its Christian values with the maxims of wealth accumulation and financial power.
The juxtaposition of money and religion (and quintessentially money as religion) points towards Warhol’s very own biography. Growing up as the Catholic son of Slovakian immigrants in Pittsburgh, Warhol’s childhood was marked by both material deprivation and religious influence. After moving to Manhattan in 1949, he soon established himself as a commercially successful illustrator and escaped financial precariousness, yet his fascination and obsession with money would remain integral throughout his life. Similarly, Warhol’s interest in powerful religious symbols would steer many of his artistic choices, particularly during this late phase of his career; the most prominent example being his famous The Last Supper paintings from 1986. With the dollar sign, Warhol had ultimately found an object that was deified by contemporary society yet represented the epitome of capitalism. Relating to the Mao and Marilyns, the Dollar Signs are a potent display of a cult of worship, and extoll an emblem that has become detached from its original meaning and acquired an autonomous, almost metaphysical status of its own.
Masterful in their execution, the present Dollar Signs epitomise Warhol’s glittering and glamourous lifestyle as he entered the 1980s. Indeed, these works affirm Warhol’s status as wry commentator who continually challenged the status quo of the art world and of society in general. Both in their imposing scale and symbolic repetition, the works are elevated to a secular religious symbol of worship for a culture that has come to define and embrace financial power as its very raison d'être. It was this highly attuned sense of cultural behaviour that allowed Warhol to create works that today remain deeply relevant.
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