- Andy Warhol
- One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate)
- casein and pencil on linen
- 132.4 by 182cm.; 52 1/8 by 71 5/8 in.
- Executed in 1962.
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
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. 57, illustrated in colour
Seoul, Ho-Am Art Gallery, Andy Warhol: Pop Art’s Superstar, 1994, p. 29, illustrated in colour
Lucerne, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Andy Warhol: Paintings 1960-1986, 1995, n.p., no. 4, illustrated in colour
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Die Epoche der Moderne: Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, 1997, n.p., no. 256, illustrated in colour
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Andy Warhol: Series and Singles, 2000, p. 73, no. 22, illustrated in colour
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; London, Tate Modern; and Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 2001-02, p. 123, no. 75, illustrated in colour
Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Andy Warhol: The Early Sixties: Paintings and Drawings 1961-1964, 2010-11, p. 127, no. 21, illustrated in colour
Lothar Romain, Andy Warhol, Munich 1993, p. 66, no. 44, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, 1997, p. 8, illustrated in colour
George Frei and Neil Printz, Eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures, Volume I, 1961-1963, New York 2002, p. 109, no. 103, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, SuperWarhol, 2003, p. 2, no. 2, illustrated
Dave Hickey, Andy Warhol: Giant Size, London 2006, p. 109, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien, Warhol/ Basquiat, 2013, p. 65, illustrated in colour
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The Silver Certificate was the original one-dollar bill and had been used as official legal tender from 1878 until 1963. Monumentalised by Warhol on an arresting scale it bears the markings and declarations that constitute American history. Magnifying its intricate design and statutory affirmations into a consummate painterly transcription, Warhol demarcates its undulating form with thin, silver lines and bold definition. Severe contrasts and a dark field of shadow along the top edge imbue One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) with graphic depth. Similar to the ripped labels that peel and crumple away from the cylindrical surfaces in the Campbell Soup Can paintings (catalogue raisonné numbers 86–102), this shadow implies the three-dimensionality of the original bill – a concession to verisimilitude that would soon be ironed out with his discovery of the silkscreen method. Aligned with Warhol’s early paintings, the present work’s composition was achieved by hand tracing a photographic projection onto canvas. The photographic source was taken from a series of images showing dollar bills in varying arrangements. Taken by Warhol’s close friend Edward Wallowitch at the artist’s behest, the original contact sheet reveals three one-dollar bills in a triangular configuration; Warhol cropped and inverted this image to achieve his final composition. Although the present work was the only painting created, Wallowitch’s contact sheet was used as the source for a multitude of other drawings by the artist.
Following Wallowitch’s photographic source, these drawings depict dollar bills arranged in various groupings and shapes, tied in a roll, torn in half, ripped and crumpled, as well as in combination with Campbell’s Soup cans. This unique union of Warhol’s most iconic subjects was aptly described by Allison Unruh as a “Pop primal scene” (Allison Unruh, ‘Signs of Desire: Warhol’s Depictions of Dollars’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 138). Warhol’s unconventional treatment of the dollar bill in this critical series of drawings concurred with his idiosyncratic approach to currency as something to be valued and celebrated, but also handled in a casual, nonchalant way on a day to day basis. As the artist explained: “The best way I like to carry money, actually, is messily. Crumpled wads. A paper bag is good” (Andy Warhol, op cit., Orlando 1975, p. 130). Interestingly Warhol mostly painted bills of small denominations. Similar to the way he painted Campbell’s Soup for its classless and everyman status – Arthur C. Danto refers to this Warholian subject as “the democratic soup, the soup of the people” – he depicts bills that have been owned, handled and cherished by ordinary people, the general masses with whom Warhol, the democratic everyman, aligned himself (Arthur C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol and the Love of $$$$$’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, 1997, p. 8).
On the other hand, Warhol luxuriated in the potential of money and the glamour and wealth that it promised. Above the image of George Washington bold shaded lettering delineates the heading “United States of America”, whilst underneath the certificate's function is defined, clearly stating the legal mandate “one silver dollar payable to the bearer on demand”. Herein the inscription and title of the work underpins Warhol’s ongoing appropriation and evocation of precious metal in his work. Having first introduced gold leaf into his shoe drawings of the 1950s, gold and silver played an important part in his work: from the mesmeric environment of the artist’s silver-foiled Factory, his installation of Silver Clouds at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, through to his Gold Marilyn Monroe of 1962 and the 1963 series of silver Liz and Elvis’. Of the latter Warhol used a simulacrum of precious metal as tribute to the iconic status of 1950s silver screen idols. Indeed, very much attuned to the way Warhol valorised icons of a by-gone era, the Silver Certificate was on the verge of obsolescence. Warhol’s immortalisation of soon-to-be ‘old money’ signalled an important economic change, in which the backing of American legal tender was no longer linked to precious metal, but instead prescribed an economy centred on exchange value rather than industrial production. This transition was seminal in achieving the systems of capitalist exchange that epitomised the hyper-consumerist society, which Warhol so enthusiastically supported.
Warhol had previously introduced the theme of money and the American dollar in a number of his commissioned illustrations and early drawings. For the 1954 issue of Dance Magazine for example, Warhol produced a commercial illustration depicting a sack of gold with several coins marked either with loosely sketched dollar signs, the number twenty, or miniature portraits, pouring from it. For a Charles of the Ritz face powder advertisement the artist portrayed a female face on a coin and marked it with the inscription “liberty”, playfully applying the notion of freedom to consumer culture. Moreover, a humorous drawing from around 1957 depicts a tree of money, with dollar bills hanging off the branches instead of leaves. Considering the fact that Warhol’s first corporate entity was founded that same year, his depiction of a tree sprouting money was a pertinent visualisation of his artistic and entrepreneurial ambition.
These early illustrations and drawings not only prelude Warhol's choice of subject matter, but introduced aesthetic tendencies and techniques that would inspire several of the artist's early paintings of the 1960s. In his seminal essay for the Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh highlights the significance and stylistic influence that Warhol’s commercial illustrations from the 1950s had on his subsequent artistic output: “… a more extensive study of Warhol’s advertisement design would suggest that the key features of his work of the early 1960s are prefigured in the refined arsenal and manual competence of the graphic designer: extreme close-up fragments and details, stark graphic contrast and silhouetting of forms, schematic simplification, and, most important, of course, rigorous serial compositions” (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ‘Andy Warhol’s One-Dimensional Art, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, pp. 42-44). In particular, Warhol's appropriation and manipulation of photographic source material was a formative technique that furnished his transition from illustrator to fine artist. At the time his invalidation of free-hand drawing was met with disapproval, however, in his transition into the realm of fine art, his inventive use of the photographic medium was an effectual technique that allowed him to achieve the speed and efficiency of output that concurred with the commercial subject matter of his works. As one of the salient examples of this initial adaptation of the tracing method for his fine art practice One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) was thus the early harbinger of an expedient technique that preluded the silkscreen process, which would define the rest of Warhol’s oeuvre.
Warhol’s deliberation upon the thematic potential of the dollar as a subject coincided with the post-war boom in America and the dollar's rapidly increasing omnipotence as international currency. Looking back at this period in American history Germano Celant considered the signs and symbols endemic at that time: “What quasi-metaphysical entity, having risen to the level of absolute value, could present itself as omnipotent and omnipresent? ... Something unreal that had invaded the whole society, transforming itself into quantity and monumentality?” (Germano Celant in: Exhibition Catalogue, Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, SuperWarhol, 2003, p. 3). For Celant the answer to this question lay in Warhol’s pertinent choice of subject matter. He explained: “In 1960 Warhol identified this thing in the green bill of the American dollar, with its motto ‘In God we Trust’, in denominations of one and two dollars. It was an object liberated from its value, in favour of its function: a technical medium conveying a modality of existence in simulacra, an element transcending the functionality of need and assuming the meaning of economic overdetermination in symbolic exchange” (Germano Celant quoted in: ibid., p. 3). Identifying the American dollar as a leitmotif of American culture, Warhol famously declared that: “Americans are not so interested in selling. What they really like to do is buy” (Andy Warhol, op cit., Orlando 1975, p. 229). The ultimate symbol of the American Dream, the dollar represented not just status and wealth, but also hope and desire. Without parallel in its internationalism and potent iconography, it stood, and still stands, as the archetypal symbol for the systems of exchange that have shaped and moulded our turbo-Capitalist era.
Created at the very crux of the artist’s transition from commercial illustration to the realm of fine art, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) is heralded as the genesis of one of Warhol’s most important artistic obsessions: money. Monumental in scale and prodigious in scope, it stands as an astute allegory of its time and is truly without parallel within the salient artistic accomplishments of Andy Warhol's oeuvre.