"We are all preoccupied with money, and, in its way, [Warhol’s] ... dollar sign is as much an emblem of America as the flag."
-A.C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol Enterprises', Andy Warhol, New Haven 2009, p. 129
Crackling with iconic energy, Dollar Sign (1981) is a jewel-like work from one of Andy Warhol’s most celebrated late series. Against a deep purple background, four superimposed silkscreens – in orange, yellow, glittering gold and pale blue – come together to depict a vivid dollar sign. Warhol prepared his screens by filling their stencil outlines with gestural, pencilled scrawls, which vibrate in the present work’s dynamic, off-kilter printing; sparks of colour fly as if the sign is ablaze. Painted in 1981, the Dollar Signs evoke the heady promise of the socalled ‘Reaganomics’ espoused by Ronald Reagan at the dawn of the 1980s, which ushered in a prolonged era of economic growth. Warhol had even attended the swearing-in of the new president on 20th January, 1981, in Washington, D.C. The Dollar Signs were first exhibited at the Castelli Gallery on Greene Street in January the following year, and became particularly evocative of the booming art world of 1980s New York, which made overnight stars of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel, among others. ‘When they were shown at the Castelli Gallery’, wrote David Bourdon, ‘… they appeared as prophetic emblems of the huge amounts of money that would pour into the art world during the following years. Warhol’s Dollar Signs are brazen, perhaps insolent reminders that pictures by brand-name artists are metaphors for money, a situation that never troubled him’ (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 384).
Indeed, this idea had fascinated Warhol ever since he first ‘printed money’ with his 1962 Dollar Bills , which were among his very earliest silkscreened works. The dollar sign is a perfect Warholian emblem, succinctly picturing the relationship between art, commerce and the American Dream. If the Dollar Sign works heralded an optimistic new age in the American economy, they also marked a turning point for Warhol, who entered his final decade with a burst of creativity, vitality and experimental spirit. Dollar Sign ’s use of gold paint displays his particular brilliance as a colourist in this period. The use of gold has a twofold effect; it recalls the literal gold bars of the U.S. treasury that accredit paper currency, and also hints wryly at devotional symbolism, much as in works like Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962, Museum of Modern Art, New York). Gold has been used in Catholic iconography for centuries to denote spiritual illumination and the divine light of the heavens. As a child, Warhol worshipped with his family at the Saint John Chrysostom Byzantine Church in Pittsburgh, which housed dozens of shimmering gold icons. In Dollar Sign , he depicts a secular symbol in regal hues that recall the power of these holy images: its small scale hints at the possibility for private, intimate worship of the almighty dollar.