- Andy Warhol
- Front and Back Dollar Bills
- i) signed and dated 1962 on the overlap
ii) signed and dated 1963 on the overlap
- silkscreen ink and pencil on linen, in two parts
Estate of Jed Johnson, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1998
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago; London, Hayward Gallery; Cologne, Museum Ludwig; Venice, Palazzo Grassi; and Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, p. 164, no. 143, illustrated in colour
Paris, Musée de la Poste, Les Couleurs de l’Argent, 1991-92, p. 139, incorrectly illustrated in colour
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Andy Warhol: Series and Singles, 2000, p. 78, no. 26, illustrated in colour
Trewin Copplestone, The Life and Works of Andy Warhol, Avonmouth 1995, p. 19, illustrated in colour
Jennifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley and José Esteban Muñoz, Pop Out: Queer Warhol, Durham 1996, p. 124, no. 8, illustrated
Exhibition Catalogue, Ludwigshafen, Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Andy Warhol – Sammlung José Mugrabi, 1996-97, p. 34, illustrated
Jose Maria Faerna, Ed., Warhol, New York 1997, n.p., no. 13, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, 1997, p. 11, 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. 135, no. 130, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, SuperWarhol, 2003, p. 28, no. 11, illustrated in colour
With this series, Andy Warhol wholly revolutionised American art with his pioneering use of the commercial silkscreen technique. Responding to the consumer driven culture of the post-war climate, Warhol sought a technique that would eradicate traces of the artist’s hand, mirroring the distance and alienation that was proliferating in the modern world around him. Rather fittingly, and with typical Warholian irony, the subject matter chosen for this momentous shift in practice was the ultimate serial image and symbol of commerce – the mass-printed dollar bill. Depicting one of the most recognisable and potent motifs in the world, this series explores the cultural, creative and decorative potential of the dollar as a socially loaded emblem of wealth and status. The early silkscreened dollar bills should thus be seen as the very foundation of his lifelong fascination and celebration of celebrity, wealth and popular culture and are amongst the most significant pieces he ever created.
Various anecdotes have been mythologised in art history as to who inspired Warhol to elevate the humble dollar bill to the realm of high art. One account attributes the suggestion to the famed art and antiques dealer Muriel Latow. Warhol's assistant, Ted Carey, gave this account of the fabled conversation between Warhol and Latow: “Andy [Warhol] said, 'I don't know what to do.' 'So,' he said, 'Muriel, you've got fabulous ideas. Can't you give me an idea?' And so, Muriel said, 'Yes.' 'But,' she said, 'it's going to cost you money.' So Andy said, 'How much?' So she said, 'fifty dollars.' She said, 'Get your checkbook and write me a check for fifty dollars' and Andy ran and got his checkbook, like you know, he was really crazy and he wrote out the check. He said, 'All right. Give me a fabulous idea.' And so Muriel said, ’What do you like more than anything else in the world?’ So Andy said, ’I don’t know, what?’ So she said ’Money. The thing that means more to you than anything else in the world is money. You should paint pictures of money’ and so Andy said ’Oh, that’s wonderful’” (Ted Carey quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 126). Alternately, New York art dealer Eleanor Ward attributes the start of this series to her promise of a solo show at her Stable Gallery should Andy paint her lucky two dollar bill. In typically drôle diction however, Warhol describes his reasoning much more simply: “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about. I’m working on soups and I’ve been doing some paintings of money. I just do it because I like it” (Andy Warhol quoted in: David Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1995, p. 90).
At the beginning of 1962 Warhol announced the induction of the dollar into his repertoire with his large and now iconic hand-painted One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate). Up to this point, Warhol had been translating mass produced images, objects and commercial products purely by hand. Frustrated by drawing, however, he became preoccupied by visualising processes of industrial repetition and giving artistic expression to the factory production line, and so looked for a mechanical aid to produce his paintings. Having first experimented with the serial image by laboriously using stencils, as seen in his repeating soup cans such as 100 Campbell Soup Cans, and meticulously using rubber stamps as with his Airmail series, Warhol found that neither process allowed him to achieve his ultimate goal; a mechanical multiplicity of one image within the same work. The silkscreen, however, would prove to be Warhol’s perfect muse. During the months of March to April 1962 he employed the silkscreen method that was already widely used in the field of commercial printing. First, the artist approached his local printers, Tibor Press, and asked whether they would silkscreen actual money for him. Although the company initially declined, they agreed providing that Warhol would supply them with drawings rather than actual money to print. Herein lies the birth of his pivotal Dollar Bill series. For these works Warhol meticulously traced by hand the graphic detail of the dollar bill’s design; once on acetate these drawings were then transferred onto silkscreens by an external company. The process would have involved coating screens in photosensitive emulsion, placing Warhol’s dollar-bill acetate against the screen and exposing it to strong light; where the light exposed emulsion hardens and binds to the screen fabric, Warhol’s dollar drawing would have blocked the light and thus remained soluble. After being sprayed with water, the emulsion where the image was placed falls away to reveal a perfectly reproducible image template. A contemporaneous trade-secret of the printing industry, this extraordinary technical innovation was to have widespread and radical consequences not only for Warhol but also for the history of art.
The only diptych created by Warhol in the Dollar Bills series, Front and Back Dollar Bills explores the graphic potential of the ubiquitous United States note to its fullest. Separating the dollar bill into its black and green constituent parts – whereby the left panel articulates the front of the bill in a sumptuous jet black and the right panel illustrates the back of the dollar in a rich, hookers green – Warhol creates the slick veneer that would come to typify his iconic Pop aesthetic. The reasoning behind the separation of green and black elements is most likely historic. The first government issued dollar bills were printed in 1861 under Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, and became commonly known as ‘greenbacks’. Printed in green on the back and black on the front, the ‘greenback’ is quoted in the present work and thus certainly reflects Warhol’s erudite knowledge of the history of the dollar. Sharing great affinities with the foundational dollar masterpiece, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), the left hand panel of Front and Back Dollar Bills depicts the obverse of the old Silver Certificate Dollar Bill, whose name is faintly legible across the top of each dollar, whilst the intense black paint strikingly picks out the facial features of George Washington in the centre. The right hand panel illustrates the mysterious reverse of the dollar bill, with the iconic motto of the United States, ‘In God We Trust’ clearly defined and emblazoned across its centre. To create the repeating hypnotic surfaces of Front and Back Dollar Bills, Warhol schematically arranged the individual prints in two rows of twenty across each panel to create two elegant, elongated portrait pieces that combine in a visually arresting masterpiece.
As with Front and Back Dollar Bills, for Two Dollar Bills (Front) (Froehlich Collection), Forty Two Dollar Bills (Fronts and Backs) and the present Two Dollar Bills (Back) Warhol composed two rows of twenty, two dollar bills, to create an exquisite, slim-line portrait format. Reflective of the comparative rarity of the two dollar bill in circulation and the lucky status it has thus been accorded, Warhol created four two dollar bill works on a large scale. The two-dollar bill held a particularly important place in Warhol’s world. Obsessed and fascinated by the design of these rare bills, he would go to banks to stock up on them – not for their monetary value but purely to marvel at the beauty of their design. Indeed, Arthur C. Danto recounts that a significant cache of two dollar bills was found in Warhol’s apartment after his death, evidence not of miserliness but of Warhol’s mania to collect (Arthur C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol and the Love of $$$$$’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 7). It was this kind of money, the bills of small denominations, that Warhol loved the most. As with his Campbell Soup Cans, these bills were those used every day by ordinary people to buy normal goods and were easily accessible to all.
Owing to the traced template of his dollar bills, Warhol was unable to fully remove his hand from the surface of these works. Furthermore, each work in this series exhibits a certain handmade aesthetic owing to the inconsistencies of placing the silkscreen and printing each dollar individually. To minimise evidence of this, Warhol mapped out a grid of pencil lines to guide the placement of the individual screens that are still visible today. In the present works, deep green and inky black areas create striking painterly contrasts to the white ground whilst fine drawing delineates President Thomas Jefferson’s palatial home, Monticello and the portrait of George Washington at the centre of the one-dollar bill. In order to distinguish his dollar bills from real life paper money, and to avoid being accused of counterfeiting, Warhol drew his dollar on acetate measuring approximately four by nine inches – considerably larger than real one and two dollar bills. The ensuing difference in size, Warhol’s use of drawing, and the irregular slips and impressions of the silkscreen surface help to distinguish these paintings both visually and technically from fake money. Herein, the Dollar Bills retain their concession to the tradition of fine art as emanating from the hand of the artist, whilst simultaneously signalling Warhol’s ideological aim to become like a machine.
The relationship between art and money defined Warhol’s expansive oeuvre, charting his development from commercial illustrator, to fine art innovator and art world superstar. Unlike any artist before him, Warhol directly inhabited the interstitial space that separates art from commerce. Indeed, Warhol would have been acutely aware that the value of his paintings would far outstrip the cumulative worth depicted on each canvas. In this regard the Dollar Bills are unrivaled in embracing and simultaneously critiquing exactly what they represent. Unlike any works before or after, the Dollar Bills signal the absolute alignment of subject and object: money and art are presented in consummate yet dichotomous complicity. More than fifty years later, these works are as radical and ‘on the money’ today as they were in 1962.