Inscribed “Jon/Andy 81” on the back, this vibrant Dollar Sign in bold red-and-green on lavender, is virtually a Valentine to both Jon Gould (Warhol’s boyfriend at the time) and the mighty dollar. As Warhol put it in his diaries on April 16, 1981, “And then I decide that I should try to fall in love and that’s what I’m doing now with Jon Gould…” (A. Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, P. Hackett (eds.),New York, 1989, p. 372). Andy was so smitten with Gould that at one point, Warhol actually had his Factory assistants silkscreen some hearts as a Valentine’s Day present for Jon.
Warhol had first met the handsome young Paramount Pictures executive in late 1980, shortly after his previous lover, Jed Johnson, had left. He was instantly infatuated with Gould, sending him roses daily and plying him with expensive gifts and trips. (Warhol even gave him a double strand of pearls, and, on an early weekend trip together, photographed him wearing it on the beach). Warhol, of course, also had his eye on the bottom line; he perceived Gould as a potential conduit to Hollywood. “...so my crush on him will be good for business,” he observed, shortly after meeting him. (ibid, p. 374).
Twenty-five years the artist’s junior, Gould would be Warhol’s longest and last romantic relationship. Although it began as a long-distance relationship, since Gould was based in Los Angeles, the two lived together in Warhol’s townhouse when Gould was in New York. Andy also suggested that he would help Gould build an art collection. Although many of the works in the Gould collection were gifts from the artist, Gould made a point of actively acquiring contemporary art. (Bob Colacello, Holy Terror, HarperCollins, New York, 1990, p. 467.)
Warhol was obviously obsessed with Jon Gould, an obsession that didn’t end until Gould left him, moving back to Los Angeles in 1985, a year before his death from AIDS. But Warhol had always been obsessed with money, as documented in his journals, which meticulously note the cost of every cab ride. He also liked to give dollars—and his Dollar Signs--as gifts. "And money is the best gift, so I gave Jon and Peter [Wise] each $100 in one-dollar bills….And Jon I gave $80 of Susan B. Anthony Dollars" (A. Warhol Diaries, May 4, 1981, p. 377).
The artist first began depicting U.S. dollars early in his career. In the 1950s he drew a money tree, and in 1961 he created a small master series of dollar bills. The subject also inspired a paradigm shift in his art: Warhol’s very first silkscreens were of dollar bills. “I started [silk-screening] when I was printing money. I had to draw it, and it came out looking too much like a drawing, so I thought wouldn’t it be a great idea to have it printed. Somebody said you could just put it on silkscreens” (Glenn O’Brien interview with Andy Warhol, High Times, No. 24, August, 1977, p. 34.) So Warhol took several of his dollar drawings to a printing shop, which converted them into hand-cut silkscreens (David Bourdon, Warhol, Henry N. Abrams, New York, 1989, p. 108.) Money was also the perfect subject for the grid format Warhol used for serial images such as the Soup Cans; his famous 200 One Dollar Bills was shown at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in 1962.
Indeed, one story has it that it was Ward who, flipping through her wallet, told Warhol that if he painted her a dollar bill, she would give him a show. But Warhol himself explained that, “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.” (D. Bourdon, Warhol, p. 90.)
As the 1980s ushered in a decade notorious for conspicuous consumption, Warhol gave the money theme his own ironic spin, creating the Dollar Sign series. Among the most Warholian of his images, The Dollar Signs powerfully merge many of the artist’s signature traits: his marketing and branding genius, his take on art as a commodity, his drawing skills and his saturated Pop palette. First shown at the Leo Castelli gallery in January, 1982, the Dollar Signs are a literal manifestation of one of Warhol’s most famous quotes, “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.” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1975, p. 134.)
The provenance and personal inscription on Dollar Sign lends this piece a particular poignancy. But, like all Warhol’s images in the series, it is also a potent graphic reference to the monetary symbol as the ultimate American logo.