Andy Warhol was the ultimate arbiter of American culture. Through his four decades of production, he successfully extracted the essence of each of those distinct eras. Beginning in the 1950s, the dollar sign was a constant motif in his work that morphed to match the changing times. Reflecting the dynamic of that decade, the Dollar Signs of 1981 are the most garish and flagrantly capitalistic of all of these incarnations. The present example is one of the most exuberant and the ultimate expression of Warhol's personal fascination with money.
Warhol remarked, "I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a 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" (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to Z and Back Again, New York, 1975, p. 134). Warhol always sought personal wealth and the status that it provided and was never shy about his capitalist aspirations. Some of his earliest Pop icons are of dollar bills. Rendered with a forger's precision these early paintings inform us of Warhol's desire to literally print money. Although restrained in their aesthetic, they were radical paintings in their own time as they directly confronted the feigned separation of the market and the production of art.
In the 1980s the world was consumed by the pursuit of wealth and creature comforts and art had become a major status symbol. American culture had followed Warhol's lead to a point that even he must have found thrilling. Warhol noted with satisfaction, "Big time art is big time money" (quoted in T. Fairbrother, Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, exh. cat., Van de Weghe, New York, p. 9). Power suits, hostile take-overs and unchecked accumulation of wealth dominated the business world and debauchery, excess and self-indulgence ruled the night. People were no longer afraid to flaunt their wealth and the dollar was king.
These final Dollar Signs no longer take the entire bill as their object. Instead Warhol has chosen to depict only the screaming icon of money--the isolated "$." Monumental in scale, Dollar Sign reverberates with contrasting day-glow colors and intersecting sinuous lines. The dollar sign was Andy Warhol's Holy Grail and then he made it ours.