In a dazzling rainbow of hues and innumerable stylistic variations, Andy Warhol’s Dollar Signs are superb manifestations of one of Pop art’s most important inquiries: the relationship between art and commerce. When a series of the Dollar Sign paintings were first exhibited at Leo Castelli’s Greene Street Gallery in 1982 – the same year this work was given to the Pratesi family—the seemingly endless succession of dollar signs on the wall transformed the art space into a veritable temple of financial worship. As Warhol poignantly noted, “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.” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), Orlando, 1975, p. 92) Throughout his career, Warhol saw the worlds of creativity and commerce as being intimately intertwined—a sentiment that is perfectly illustrated by the artist’s long friendship with Athos Pratesi.
The Pratesi brand has long been renowned as the primary Maison of luxury linens worldwide. Founded by Remigio Pratesi in Tuscany at the turn of the century, it was Athos Pratesi – Remigio’s grandson—who brought the company to Manhattan in 1966. From their glamorous storefront on Madison Avenue, the Pratesi brand and family quickly rose to represent all the luxury, elegance, and sophistication of New York in the 70’s and 80’s; simultaneously, Warhol was gaining prominence as the ultimate illustrator, critic, and participant of that same opulent lifestyle. The brand’s slogan, "People with uncommon taste share an uncommon lifestyle,” sums up much of the magical glamour of the Warholian Factory era. One chilly New York day, Athos and his son, Federico – the fourth and present head of Pratesi – were strolling down Madison Avenue towards the storefront. Athos was wearing a beloved Casentino coat with a lavishly soft fox fur collar. The coat had been custom ordered from Tuscany in the celebrated Pratesi orange. On that day, a strangely dressed man stopped Federico and his father, dramatically insisting that they tell him where they had bought the fabulous, brightly colored coat. Startled, the pair brushed him off and continued on to the Pratesi store. Upon arriving there, Federico and Athos were surprised to find that the strange man was there as well, intending to purchase a set of the luxury sheets. Even more surprising, upon being introduced to the man, the pair learned that it was the infamous Andy Warhol who had been coveting the gorgeous, Casentino orange coat. This extraordinary meeting was the beginning of a long friendship between Athos Pratesi and Andy Warhol. Each man found a kindred spirit in the other, a fellow appreciator of a luxurious, opulent lifestyle. Indeed, Warhol once informed Athos that upon the completion of each successful gallery exhibition, he treated himself to one material luxury in particular–he purchased for himself a new set of Pratesi sheets.
Several years after the fateful meeting on Madison Avenue, Warhol presented Athos with Dollar Sign (1982) at a Pratesi event in the Mayfair Hotel; he suggested that Athos give the painting to his beautiful, stylish wife, Dede. Warhol insisted that this Dollar Sign, with its fiery orange hue, was the perfect symbol for the Pratesi family. In return, Athos Pratesi had asked his Tuscan tailor to custom-design a Casentino coat in the Pratesi orange for Andy in tribute to their first, chance meeting. The universality of the iconic dollar sign is counterbalanced by the intimacy of the palette, which sweetly recalls the hue of Athos’ favorite coat. Indeed, Dollar Sign is a surprisingly intimate painting, the small size and blushing, rosy background gently checking the anonymity of the symbol. Rather than serving as an enormous billboard for the American Dream of capitalism, this Dollar Sign is a cherished votive, a tribute offered at the altar of luxury and beauty. The striking, brilliant orange hue of this piece, combined with the intimate size, remind the viewer that Warhol intended this Dollar Sign to express his affection for his friends, the Pratesi family. Simultaneously, the symbol emblazoned on the painting – the enormous, three-dimensional dollar sign—reminds the viewer of the passion for luxury that conceptually links the Warhol’s Dollar Sign paintings and the Pratesi family.
Sotheby's is honored to offer this work from The Pratesi Collection. The proceeds from the sale of this lot will benefit a future Pratesi Family Charitable foundation.
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