How much would you pay for a (Warhol) dollar?
How much would you pay for a one dollar bill? One dollar would naturally make sense, but, if you dig a little deeper, the question isn’t as obvious as it first seems. For example, a dollar a generation ago isn’t the same as it is today, such is the curious nature of time and the science of inflation. Then there is comparative worth against other currencies. In a rather reductive sense, the British pound, the Chinese yen, the Russian rouble, well, their equivalent to one dollar isn’t worth a dollar. You could go on.
Now, ask yourself, how much would you pay for a painting of a dollar? For kicks, you might proffer one dollar (because, why not?). Yet, of course, the worth of that one dollar painting is more insofar as the cost that went into it (labour, materials). But, again, at the same time, it can be fundamentally worthless/priceless, as demonstrated by one notable and remarkable recent auction.
Andy Warhol’s One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) went under the hammer for £20.9 million, absolutely smashing its pre-sale estimate of £13 million to £18 million. Painted in 1962, the painting was described by Sotheby’s as one of Warhol’s many career-defining works that “set the foundation for the entire dollar bill series”. Moreover, for that sense of exclusivity, it is the only work from this cluster to have been executed entirely by hand.
“Unimpeachably important, it signifies the very foundation upon which Warhol forged his career, the one painting to which Warhol’s fascination with consumption, wealth, celebrity, and glamour is rooted, Sotheby’s explained online.
“Indeed, the iconographic power of the American dollar bill inhabits the symbolic core of Warhol’s radical Pop dialectic. Signalling Warhol’s full transition to fine art superstar, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) ranks amongst the most important works from his unparalleled artistic legacy.”
This work marked a turning point for the pop artist, who, that year, began to experiment with the mechanical processes of image making. As such, the fact that One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) is a “pure work” is extremely important. After 1962, in part, Warhol’s approach to art changed significantly.
It’s all the more apt that Warhol’s painting of a dollar bill is selling for millions and millions of pounds in the 21st century. For even he would acknowledge the peculiar brilliance of the inflated value of what is a mundane and everyday subject. yet, because of who he is, his brand and his legacy – and ultimately his philosophical outlook on art and life – its worth is justified, or at least understood.
So, in conclusion, there is no absolute answer to the opening question. How much you’d pay for a dollar, or an image of a dollar, or an image of an image of a dollar – as understood by Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (this is not a pipe) – is entirely dependent on you. As spectators, it is fascinating to see just how much we are willing to hand over not just for a dollar, but for anything.
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