Dollar Sign 279 is a screenprint by Andy Warhol from his famous Dollar Sign series, published in 1982. Ultimately, Warhol’s Dollar Signs are a one-off from his other depictions, but remain truly Warholian in spirit. Instead of printing another John Gotti, Marilyn Monroe, or Mick Jagger, Warhol shows us what’s behind them all.
It was a common practice of Warhol’s to ask his friends what he should paint. He was unapologetic about this, maintaining the notion that Pop Art came from the outside world. On one such occasion, a friend of Warhol’s inspired his use of money as a subject. “It was on one of those evenings when I’d asked around ten or fifteen people for suggestions that finally one lady friend of mine asked me the right question,” he commented. “‘Well, what do you love most?’ That’s how I started painting money.” Dollar Sign 279 is a testament to Warhol’s affection for consumer culture and commercial art.
After graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (known today as Carnegie Mellon University) in 1949, Andy Warhola dropped the “a” from his last name and moved to New York City. The sprawling metropolitan scene and all its possibilities enchanted Warhol. Having grown up without luxuries in Depression-era Pittsburgh, he strived for wealth and success. As a result of his determination, he quickly gained recognition as a commercial artist. His clients included Glamour, Vogue, Tiffany & Co. and Miller Shoes among others. Before long, he was making money. It was an experience he would never grow tired of.
During his early years Warhol worked on client drawings well into the night. Consequently, he developed a deep appreciation for commercial art. To him, it was not a “low” form of art, often disparaged by others. On the contrary, there was beauty in it worthy of higher distinction. Warhol viewed himself as a true American artist, and from his perspective, money making and spending were fundamental to American culture. Moreover, he believed business itself was a form of art. The name of his famed New York studio, The Factory, further showcased his admiration for mass production.
Warhol painted the symbol in Dollar Sign 279 bright red on an aptly chosen green background, its yellow flourishes producing a three-dimensional effect. In this 1982 work, Warhol created the source image himself rather than re-printing a photograph. This was both an atypical choice and one that demonstrated Warhol’s spontaneity as an artist. In addition, the image bears a strong similarity to hand-painted advertising signs displayed on the sides of buildings. There is no doubt that Warhol utilized his experience in commercial art for this series; Pop Art itself was in part a byproduct of his love for commercialism. What’s more, money was just as significant to the art world as it was to the average American citizen. Warhol decided it was high time to finally say it, to speak a truth most modern artists preferred to circumvent.
In Dollar Sign 279, money becomes the subject, a commodity in its own right. Warhol believed that capitalism was paramount to American culture, that it deserved its equal place in art. Through his work on the Dollar Sign series, Warhol made one of his most “Pop” statements: there was beauty to be found in contemporary consumerism.