To compose Two Dollar Bills (Back) (40 Two Dollar Bills in Green), Warhol arranged twenty two-dollar bills in two precise rows, both shown in reverse, to create an exquisite, slim-line portrait format. Within the familiar pantheon of American currency, Warhol placed a particularly high premium upon the image of the two-dollar bill; fascinated by the pictorial scheme of these rare bills, he would frequently visit New York banks to stock up, reveling in the intricate beauty of their unique design. Indeed, Arthur C. Danto recounts that a significant cache of two-dollar bills was found in Warhol’s apartment after his death, testifying both to the artist’s fondness for the this particular item of currency and to his unique mania to collect. In concordance with comparative rarity of two-dollar bill in circulation, and evoking the lucky status they were subsequently accorded, Warhol created only four large-scale two-dollar bill works, including, Two Dollar Bills (Fronts)(40 Two Dollar Bills in Red), in the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart, and Forty Two Dollar Bills (Fronts and Backs), and Two Dollar Bills (Front and Rear)[80 Two Dollar Bills (Front and Rear)], in the collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, in addition to the present work.
Alongside the other monumental works in the artist’s limited 1962 Dollar Bills series, Two Dollar Bills (Back) (40 Two Dollar Bills in Green) stands as the ultimate manifestation of perhaps the most salient inquiry in Pop Art history: the relationship between art and commerce. With this series, Warhol wholly revolutionized American art with his pioneering use of the commercial silkscreen technique, de-personalizing the production of his oeuvre in wry mimicry of the overabundant prosperity of Post-War America. Responding to the consumer-driven culture which defined the era, 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. While various anecdotes as to who inspired Warhol to elevate the humble dollar bill have become mythologized within the annals of art history, one account in particular speaks to the origin of Two Dollar Bills (Back) (40 Two Dollar Bills in Green); as told by Eleanor Ward, a prominent New York art dealer and friend of Warhol’s, the inspiration for the stories came from her promise of a solo show at her celebrated Stable Gallery if, and only if, Andy should paint a portrait of her lucky two-dollar bill. In typical fashion, however, when asked to reveal the impetus behind the series, Warhol wryly remarked: “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) Indeed, Warhol often commented on the beauty of the dollar bill itself: “American money is very well-designed, really. I like it better than any other kind of money.” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York 1975, p. 137) Created at the very crux of the artist’s transition from commercial illustration to the realm of fine art, Two Dollar Bills (Back) (40 Two Dollar Bills in Green) is emblematic, not only of Warhol’s career-long investigation of commercialism within the art world, but also of his unique, utterly Pop exploration of the universal semiotic power of cultural signs, icons, and objects that comprise everyday life.
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