'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, New York, 1977, p. 137).
A bombastic and brazen celebration of the ‘buck’, Andy Warhol's Dollar Sign presents the viewer with one of the most crucial motifs of his oeuvre. Executed in 1982, this work belongs to Warhol’s seminal Dollar Sign series that he had begun in 1981 and was created the same year of his infamous eponymously named exhibition at the Castelli Gallery in New York. The crucial subject of US dollar bills made an early appearance in Warhol's oeuvre: while first examples can be found in drawings he made as a highly successful a commercial illustrator in the 1950s, the motif notably appeared in tandem with his pioneering discovery of the screen printing, the medium which would propel him to fame, and resulted in the Dollar Bills of 1962. Dollar Sign appears to be the result of the rare superimposition of several of Warhol's own drawings, one lying on top of the other, making it a mirage-like, shimmering, elusive, reflective dollar that hovers before us all the more tantalizing. While the sequential layering of beautifully screened red, green and white colour captures the mechanical process of screen printing, the gestural, intuitively drawn hatching speaks with a gestural immediacy, adding a heightened visual impact. As Warhol explained, ‘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’ (A. Warhol, quoted in ‘Glenn O’Brien interview with Andy Warhol’, High Times, no. 24, August, 1977, p. 34).
In the early 1980s, the age that spawned the yuppie, epitomised by Wall Street’s 'Greed is good' and that culminated in American Psycho, it was only natural that Warhol should look with fresh eyes at the very signifier of consumerism. Ironically, considering the endemic nature of the dollar, Warhol found that he was unable to find an image that had quite enough impact in order to be the epitome or archetype of the dollar. And so he resorted to that skill that had earned him some of his own earliest dollars - his draughtsmanship. Works such as the present one 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 converting it into hand-cut silkscreens. Taking the dollar sign itself as a more mysterious, more worship-worthy subject matter than those earlier images of currency, Warhol removed any specific denomination, making the Dollar Sign appear as an altarpiece celebrating the currency as an abstract, un-pin-down-able concept. Just as Warhol mined the visual currency of stars such as Liz and Marilyn and products such as Coke and Campbell's Soup, he here transforms dollar sign into a sublime and mysterious emblem, one that captures the imagination and illustrates the hunger for wealth that lies behind the American Dream.