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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Dollar Sign

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Dollar Sign
stamped twice with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts stamps and numbered 'PA30.069' (on the overlap)
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas
90 x 70in. (228.6 x 177.8cm.)
Executed in 1981
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York.
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 9 November 2005, lot 50.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Youngstown (Ohio), The Butler Institute of American Art, 50th National Midyear Exhibition, June-August 1986, no. 123.
Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, November 1997, no. 4 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum, Andy Warhol: a Factory, October 1998-January 1999, no. 514 (illustrated in colour, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to Vienna, Kunsthalle, February-May 1999; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, June-September 1999; Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, October 1999-January 2000.
Rio de Janeiro, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Warhol, October-December 1999, no. 233 (illustrated in colour, p. 128).
Kochi, Museum of Art, The Andy Warhol Exhibition, February-March 2000, no. 153 (illustrated in colour, p. 159). This exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art, April-May 2000; Umeda-Osaka, Daimaru Museum, May-June 2000; Hiroshima, City Museum of Contemporary Art, June-July 2000; Tokyo, Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, August-October 2000; Nagoya, City Art Museum, October-December 2000 and Niigata, City Art Museum, January-February 2001.
New York, Van de Weghe Fine Arts, Andy Warhol: Dollar Signs, September-November 2004.
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Alice de Martigny
Alice de Martigny

Lot Essay

Executed in 1981, Dollar Sign is Andy Warhol's vast, colourful celebration of the buck. Cast against a glowing light red background, the sequential layers of screened colour which construct this iconic image of wealth, culminate with gold, as seems only too appropriate. The iconic power of the dollar sign has been tapped into by Warhol, just as he also mined the visual currency of stars such as Liz and Marilyn and products such as Coke and Campbell's Soup. They all formed a part of his unique and wide-ranging pantheon of Zeitgeist subjects, so many of which have, through their Warholian reincarnation, become all the more universal. Crucially, the subject of American money had made an incredibly early appearance in Warhol's works. Having made his name as a very successful commercial illustrator in New York in the 1950s, when he turned his back on the commercial world and became a full time artist, he began by making paintings of consumer objects, but his first series of silkscreen paintings, the medium which made his name, was indeed the Dollar Bills of 1962. These paintings were made from drawings which he had made on acetate of the front and back of Dollar bills, essentially transferring the mechanical symbol through his own hand and then using a mechanical process, silkscreen to make the paintings. However, when Warhol originally conceived of the notion of using the dollar sign as a motif, rather than the actual bills which had featured in his 1962 works, the examples that he found lacked the visual oomph that he desired. In the end Warhol, whose skills as a draughtsman were formidable, created his own drawings of dollar signs and then had those silkscreened, as is the case here.

There are several variations of the dollar sign in his work, of which this is an extremely dynamic example, all the more so because of its italics-like slanted angle. In Dollar Sign, the traces of Warhol's own original drawing is magnified into a huge scale. The hatching and the outline are therefore highly visible and indeed add to the visual impact of the picture as a whole. They grant it a certain hand-made quality that recalls some of his more 'painterly' silkscreens, such as his portraits of Mao. The fact that the source image in Dollar Sign was one that Warhol himself had created marks it out as a rarity within his oeuvre. It is the subject, rather than the actual image, that he has found. Yet this is, as it were, an image of money that Warhol himself has made, a sly and subversive return to those earlier works in which he essentially printed his own dollar bills.

In a sense, Dollar Sign is the perfect demonstration of the economics and mechanics of the art market, something of which Warhol was well aware by the early 1980s, when his own pictures were selling for ever-increasing sums, a fact of which he kept close track, not least in the auction rooms of New York. In a seemingly disingenuous comment, Warhol once said, 'I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall' (Warhol, quoted in D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1995, p. 384). Dollar Sign is the ultimate expression of this idea: in terms of content, it clearly says money. And it reinforces this notion by dint of the fact that it is so immediately recognisable as a picture by Warhol. He thus lays bare the financial foundations of the art world, the very dimension of it that so many artists and aficionados alike tried to deny or even suppress. As ever, far ahead of his time, Warhol here blew the doors open on the exposure of artists to the world of commerce. A taboo at the time, the market has now become an integral aspect of the art world and artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have philosophised about the role and importance of money in the creation of art, perhaps most famously in Hirst's diamond skull, For the Love of God In this way, Dollar Sign, which has an almost poster-like visual intensity due both to its scale and its vivid colours, paradoxically straddles the explosively blatant and the subtle, the ambiguous, the mysterious. As ever, Warhol's intentions are concealed, his hand is hidden: Dollar Sign, then, manages, with that inscrutability so particular to him, to coexist as a critique, a celebration and an embracing of conspicuous consumption.

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