Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Dollar Sign 1982

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Lot 21*
Andy Warhol
Dollar Sign

Sold for £ 409,012 (US$ 571,242) inc. premium
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Dollar Sign

signed, dated 82 and with the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board stamp and number A106.17 on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

35.5 by 28 cm.
14 by 11 in.


  • Provenance
    Estate of the artist, New York
    Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1991

    Arguably the best of its kind to come to auction, Dollar Sign of 1982 is a remarkable piece of classic Warhol. The thickness of the paint, the vivid interplay of five distinct dollar signs offset against the jet-black background in electrifying colour is unique in the Dollar Sign paintings. The intensity and distinct clarity of each colour married to its unusually large size for this series, mark it out as an exceptional example, fresh to market, from a body of work that captures the mood of a moment and the very spirit of Warhol himself.

    In his private life he may have remained something of an enigma, but when it came to making art Warhol was not afraid to reveal his inner workings, his interest in glamour, wealth and fame, and his fascination with the visual language of modern America. In the present work of 1982, we witness all of those elements rolled into one work of art, an explosion of colour, line and form. In this remarkable piece, the dollar sign seems intent on escaping the canvas, bursting out from the picture plane in a riot of scarlet, blue, pink, red and yellow. An image repeated over and over, five distinct dollar signs one on top of the other, the colours clashing and resounding against one another in a symphony of polychromatic exuberance. This is surely Warhol at his most lively, his most enthusiastic and animated, a neon kaleidoscope of Flavin-esque intensity. Dollar Sign is a painting with joy at its heart, a joy for the creative process and a delight for the very subject matter. After all, what could be more truly Warhol than a euphoric paean to wealth?

    It would be fair to say that Andy Warhol was obsessed with money: he loved to make it, he loved to spend it, and he loved to paint it. He grew up without much of it in Depression-era Pittsburgh, a fact which probably influenced his later position: "Money is the MOMENT to me. Money is my MOOD" he declared in his 1975 book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (p. 136), a volume which contains typically Warholian musings on life, love, sex, celebrity and art, those essentials of Warhol's world. A whole chapter of book is dedicated to "Economics", in which the artist shares his thoughts on money, its worth and its importance. While some artists can be rather coy about their financial dealings, Warhol made money his very raison d'être, and made no attempts to hide it. David Bourdon describes his Dollar Sign series as "brazen", adding that they could be seen as "insolent reminders that pictures by brand-name artists are metaphors for money, a situation that never bothered him" (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 384). But then Warhol, particularly during the 1980s, was always about celebration, about excess and fun. Whether it was his partying, his collecting, or his earning and spending power, Warhol did not just enjoy it, he shared it with the world, and made it into his art.
    Unusually for his art of this period, Dollar Sign features screens of an image not appropriated from the mass media or reproduced from a photograph, but one which was actually hand-drawn by Warhol himself. Apparently he tried, and failed, to find an image of the symbol which met his meticulous requirements, so Warhol simply made his own. It was his skills as a draftsman that had originally allowed him to break into the art world, and he enjoyed success as a graphic designer for a number of years in the 1950s. In Dollar Sign we see those draftsmanship skills in use once again, in the sketchy dashes, reminiscent of the strokes of the original pencil drawings on which this work is based. They contrast with solid blocks of colour to create an apparently ephemeral image, spectral and vaporous and yet filled with life. In the early 1960s Warhol had created a series of Dollar Bills, austere grid-like representations of multiple one-dollar notes very different from the vision that we see here, for in this work from 1982 we can detect a new approach to the subject, more light-hearted and effervescent, more ambitious and sexy. The Dollar Signs were launched at a star-studded opening at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1982, and Warhol himself noted that "the heavyweights were there" (The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p. 425). Warhol was by now a very rich man himself, with an opulent celebrity lifestyle to fund, and with his Dollar Signs, Warhol was quite literally making his own money.
    In Warhol's ideal world, everyone would be rich and famous. What could be more emblematic of this than the dollar sign itself, that sinuous motif which is recognised around the world as the logo for the American dream? In Dollar Sign, 1982 we see this dream at is most elemental, reduced to a potent symbol of modern wealth, power and opportunity, a virtual trademark for luxury and hedonism. Money as art, art as money, the 1980s mantra of creativity and wealth creation in that age of artistic appropriation and cultural sampling. As Tate curator Darren Pih notes: "Warhol's Dollar Sign emblematises this zeitgeist, characterised by the fluid cultural exchanges between high art and mass culture, explosions in new wealth, new processes of mass mediation and the synthesis of art, money and celebrity" ('How Andy Warhol Made Art From Money", published on, 4 November 2014) . Andy Warhol was born poor, but made himself a fortune from his art, an art which reduced the modern world to a series of instantly recognisable motifs. Dollar Sign, 1982, is perhaps the most purified version of this world-view. Ultimately it encapsulates what Andy Warhol was all about; making money, making great art, and making money out of great art.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Dollar Sign 1982
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Dollar Sign 1982
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