ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Dollar Sign

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Dollar Sign
signed, dedicated and dated 'To Jade Andy Warhol 81' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
9 7⁄8 x 8in. (25.2 x 20.2cm.)
Executed in 1981
Jade Jagger Collection, London (acquired directly from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 13 February 2014, lot 211.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Iconic, audacious, and unmistakable, Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign is emblazoned with the symbol of the American dream. One of his most celebrated late series, the vivid dollar sign encapsulates the Pittsburgh-born artist’s enduring obsessions: money, celebrity, consumption and mass-production. Layering searing red, pink and gold, the present work’s symbol electrifies the pale blue canvas, reverberating with an onomatopoeic cha-ching. Painted in 1981, by which time Warhol was firmly positioned as the foremost Pop artist of his generation, Dollar Sign speaks to the artist’s own successful navigation of the booming commercial art world. Originally gifted to Jade Jagger, daughter of Warhol’s close friends Mick and Bianca Jagger, the work testifies to the legendary screenprint as the artist’s own form of social currency among the glamorous New York upper echelons. In his signature, brazen style, here, Warhol confronts head-on the ever relevant connection between art and money.

The artist’s fascination with money can be traced throughout his career. In the 1950s he created a drawing of a money tree, and by the early 1960s he started to draw and silkscreen images of one-dollar bills. Depicted rolled, folded, creased, or stacked, the tactile paper objects appealed to Warhol’s graphic eye. He once observed, ‘American money is very well designed, really. I like it better than any other kind of money’ (A. Warhol, quoted in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and back again, Orlando 1975, p. 137). In his 1980s Dollar Sign series, Warhol distils the dollar to its essential and ubiquitous signifier. Instead of copying a readymade image, Warhol worked from his own drawings of the dollar sign to render his silkscreened paintings. Printing onto canvas, Warhol parallels the production of money itself. Indeed, aside from its particularly seductive materiality, dollars are, like the paintings produced and reproduced by Warhol’s prolific studio machinations, American-made and mass-printed.

The Dollar Sign paintings were first exhibited at the Castelli Gallery, the epicentre of the New York art world in 1982. Reflecting on the show, Warhol’s close friend and art critic David Bourdon said that they ‘appeared as prophetic emblems of the huge amounts of money that would pour into the art world during the following years’. They hung as ‘brazen, perhaps insolent reminders that pictures by brand-name artists are metaphors for money, a situation that never troubled [Warhol]’ (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 384). What’s more, the works coincided with the neoliberal ‘Reaganomic’ policies launched by President Ronald Reagan at the beginning of the 1980s. Painted at the dawn of a period of new economic growth, Warhol’s emblem shines like a beacon. Brushed with opulent golden paint, the present work nods to bullion and gold standards, while also evoking the gilded haloes of Byzantine icons and saints. Exalted to the realm of the sacred and iconographical, Warhol’s dollar sign seems to satirically herald modern-day capitalism as America’s preferred ideological system, or indeed its faith. Examples from the series are held in notable international collections including Tate, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam; and the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice.

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