Executed in 1981, Warhol's Dollar Sign appears to be a monument to money. One of the most recognised symbols in the entire world has been spread across the vast canvas. Warhol began to paint images of dollar bills in the early 1960s, producing canvases arrayed with endless grids of bank notes. The Dollar Bills came about when Warhol claimed to have run out of ideas and decided to ask a friend what he should paint next. Returning to the subject in the 1980s, he isolated the dollar sign and replicated that symbol in paintings in a sketchy, improvisational style. The dollar sign shown here on such a huge scale was taken from his own drawings, but the addition of the stencilled colours gives the work a solidity, as though this were a picture of a great sculpture. The sense of rebellion and indictment in Dollar Sign is increased by its lively colours. Warhol has taken the solid symbol of American money and has filled it with a lively Pop aesthetic. But is this a celebration of money and capitalism, or is it an ironic indictment? As is so often the case with Warhol, there is no simple answer. Throughout his life and career, he showed a continued fascination with the stars and symbols of our age, and in many ways the Dollar Sign is more pertinent, more internationally recognised, than his Marilyns or Jackies. In this sense, it fits in with much of the rest of his oeuvre, singing on the canvas with its simple iconic strength. It is with this strength and brashness that the Dollar Sign reminds us of some of Warhol's most powerful and subversive images, like the Campbell Soup Cans of 1962. Indeed, it is interesting to see that through the 70s and early 80s, celebrities did not hold sway over his work (portraits aside), but gave way instead to symbols and politicians. Marx and Mao, the hammer and sickle - these became the symbols of Warhol's art, immortalising on a grand scale the artist's legendary political indifference. Warhol was deliberately taking images that held some meaning, that would provoke a response, and using them in his art in a manner that appeared to insist that his only interest in the subjects was aesthetic.
But by using the dollar as the subject matter for a work, Warhol was clearly making a reference to art as a commodity. This was an old trope in his work, a comparison that appeared again and again. However, unlike so many other artists who disliked or denied their association with the capitalistic mechanics of the art market, Warhol openly embraced it, nowhere more openly than in Dollar Sign. Warhol did not believe in art as something apart or above, but instead hoped that its availability on the market would bring about, on some level, its democratisation. Dollar Sign is a work that exposes and banishes the mystique of the art world, and invites the viewer to participate either by looking at, or purchasing, a Warhol. While he was joking when he said that he would rather see people hang cash in their homes than expensive pictures, Dollar Sign shows his own practical response to his claim that '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).
The dollar sign is almost certainly more recognisable, throughout the world, than even Coca Cola or Jesus. It is one of the most successful and endemic logos or symbols of our age, and many previous ages. It was therefore a logical subject for Warhol to portray. The big, brash Dollar Sign celebrates a symbol that is so Pop we take it for granted. Warhol's Dollar Sign is a type of signature - it evokes money, art and Warhol himself. This work reminds us of Warhol's genius in understanding the mechanism and development of the world and his ability to imagine the future. When Dollar Sign was completed in 1981 the spheres of art and finance had only begun the strong interlocking which would dominate the next decade. The relevance of the Dollar Sign today is even stronger with the world's communities being linked more and more by commodity trading and financial interdependence.