Behold, 21 works of contemporary art coming to Sotheby’s in New York July 1 – all on the same subject – money – more pointedly the dollar bill. Sotheby’s expects to pull in upwards of $90 million for this stuff.
Leading the pack will be Andy Warhol’s 1962 painting “One Dollar Bill,” said to be the only one painted entirely painted by hand. Imagine that, a painter who uses his own hand to paint. What a concept. For our time, it’s practically history-making.
Inspired for his hand job. Warhol said, “American money is very well-designed, really. I like it better than any other kind of money.”
But the design of American money isn’t the only reason Warhol pictured it. He said it himself: “Money is the moment to me. Money is my mood.”
At least he admitted it. And, in a way, you can’t blame him. He is of the moment. He is the art world mood. When art makes news nowadays, the story is about money.
Warhol is only one of many artists who picture money in their work. Joseph Beuys and Keith Haring come to mind – all of which makes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1996 a joke. The court said that the single side of dollar bills that artist J.S.G. Boggs reproduces wasn’t art. In effect, he broke a federal law that makes it a crime to copy currency. Makes you wonder where that leaves Haring, Warhol and Beuys.
Meanwhile, picturing money brings in big bucks. In fact, if you ask what the difference is between, say, a Mercedes-Benz and a Beuys, you’d have to answer nothing if you’re treating them strictly as investments. Art works, like cars, can have a market price that provides a benchmark of value. And weirdly, if the art pictures money, you’re in like flint.
There’s a difference, of course, between the art market and the auto market. Car buyers have access to reams of information telling them exactly what a certain make and model should be worth. The art market is in its own world, where money talks and art doesn’t enter into the negotiations.
Not that Sotheby’s doesn’t try to talk the talk. On the auction house website, an effort was made to tie the forthcoming art show about the almighty dollar to art:
Warhol was focusing on the elegant curvilinear form of the dollar sign itself. Unlike the monochromatic and static 1961 ‘Dollar Bill’ paintings, Warhol’s 1981 ‘Dollar Signs’ pulsated with vibrant hues, layered energy.
“Of all lies, art is the least untrue,” said Gustave Flaubert. Maybe in his day.