Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Friday, November 14, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection, Japan

  • Catalogue Essay

    " lady friend of mine asked me the right question: ‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money.” Andy Warhol, 1962

    Andy Warhol, the undisputed titan of Pop Art, is best known for developing a language of symbols that would come to define American mass culture in the 20th Century. The dollar sign—here rendered in flushed pink, pale blue, crimson and forest green—standing for commercial capitalism and free enterprise, is perhaps the most potent of these symbols. In the early 1960s, and again in the 1980s, Warhol devoted himself to the representation of this ever-powerful motif and the present lot, Dollar Sign, 1981-82 is emblematic of this very pursuit.

    Inspired by advertisements and mechanical production, Warhol famously worked in series. In an interview he said, "I'm for Mechanical art. When I took up silk screening it was to more fully exploit the preconceived image through the commercial techniques of multiple reproduction." (The artist quoted in I'll be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, New York, 2004, p. 8-9) In its literal reference to commerce and in the manner of its fabrication, Dollar Sign reflects Warhol’s investment in the concept of industrial production.

    The dollar sign works depart from the rest of Warhol’s oeuvre in that the source image at the center of the series is one created by the artist. Instead of transferring a preconceived photograph or advertising logo (as in his glitzy celebrity silkscreens or in his Campbell’s Soup can series), Warhol, a skilled draftsman, manipulates a universal symbol to create a unique, stylized icon of his own. This marks the dollar sign paintings with a special inventiveness that is a rarity within the larger scheme of Warhol’s celebrated body of work.

    In Dollar Sign a shapely, italicized “S” reverberates against a blush pink canvas. A concordance of vibrant hues – hunter green, crimson red and ice blue – makes the symbol pop forward, surging with emblematic importance. Two layers of painted, cross-hatched color embellish the principle green form, pushing it to occupy three-dimensions. The spatial interplay of receding, cool blue and strong, vibrant red makes Dollar Sign a distinctly dynamic work. With this stylistic treatment, Warhol endows a ubiquitous symbol with stunningly monumental importance.

    Warhol was fascinated by monetary value as it figured in art as well as in his daily life. In his journal, edited and published after his death by his secretary Pat Hackett, he regularly made note of the everyday costs he incurred. Written entries in his more than 20,000-page journal parenthetically include the prices of cab fares, lunches and other small purchases. It is no surprise that money, and the opportunities brought with it, held such a fascination for Warhol, who grew up in a working-class family in the suburbs of Pittsburg.

    At a time where art and money were becoming exchanged with increasing fluidity and the value of his own work was sky-rocketing, Warhol makes the sign for currency at large the principal subject of his series. First appearing in 1962, Warhol explored the graphic nature of dollar bills, both as single images, as well as repeated screens sometimes in ordered fashion, and other times in a chaos of overlapping forms. Upon revisiting this iconic symbol, Warhol offers a type of personal retrospective to his earlier exploration, reimagining the once monochromatic screens in vibrant and extraordinary hues. In the present lot, he presents the dollar sign as at once blank, devoid of immediate value, but also filled with overwhelming potential. The myriad possibilities and promise of mobility presented by the abstract notion of cash make Dollar Sign a powerful beacon of hope.

    Warhol’s works are the ultimate status symbol. He once said, "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 B and Back Again, New York, 1975, p. 134). His dollar sign paintings, in their brutally honest reference to cash, reveal that economic forces lurk beneath the surface of aesthetic objects. Furthermore, Warhol posits that “...making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” (Ibid.) In Dollar Sign Warhol announces the often suppressed, yet close relationship between art and commercial value, and even ventures so far as to present the sign for money as a sign for art. The dollar sign series plays on this connection and reveals the universal power of both art and money to stimulate the imagination and evoke desire.

    In 1982, the dollar sign series was celebrated in an exhibition arranged by Leo Castelli at his legendary Greene Street gallery. Today, the works constitute a conceptual and stylistic zenith within the larger context of the artist’s practice. With the series, of which Dollar Sign is a seminal example, Warhol bridges spheres of art and commerce, sparking an interrogation that has preoccupied contemporary artists to this day.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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Dollar Sign

circa 1981-82
silkscreen ink on canvas
10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Signed and inscribed "H.B. to Marty Andy Warhol" along the overlap.

$400,000 - 500,000 

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Day Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2014 11am