The color of money


Robert Dowd was one of the earliest pop artists, a movement of the late 1950s to early ‘60s using mundane objects as a central theme.

Pop Art Money, now in the Main Art Gallery of the fine arts building, includes 58 colorful and ironic pieces on loan from the private collection of Jack and Joan Quinn.

Curator Phil Marquez calls it “one of the most valuable shows we’ve had in the SAC gallery.”

Dowd made surprising alterations in these large-scale versions of everyday objects, primarily dollar bills and postage stamps. The artist questioned the value of money as a flimsy piece of paper decorated with weighty symbols.

In “$5 Lincoln Torn Watercolor” the dollar is ripped in half. Several of the bills show the U.S. president’s face replaced by other artists, such as Monet and Van Gogh.

Since a recurrent theme is the worth of a dollar, in “$1.00 Gold Note” Dowd uses gold leaf suggesting an almost divine value of currency. Some pieces are enhanced with silver leaf.

In a way, the postage stamps show the history of American transportation from biplanes to blimps. “It’s kind of poignant,” Marquez said.

In the piece “Geophysical Year” some letters are missing, the globe is aflame and fingers touch as if in the act of creation.

In some of his pieces Dowd makes a play on words, as in “Yellow Tone” showing Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful.

Another piece in the show is “$50.00 Bank,” a three-dimensional construction filled with play money. In another series he shows the U.S. Treasury building on fire or split by a tornado.

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The Pop Art Money exhibit will run through April 1. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday evening 6:30 to 8:30.


  • Robert Dowd was born May 1, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan.
  • After Robert Dowd was discharged from the U.S. Marines in 1957, he used his G.I. Bill for tuition to study at the Society of Arts and Crafts/Center for Creative Studies, one of the world’s top colleges.
  • Dowd’s Pop Art broke through in 1962 with the exhibition New Painting of Common Objects in the Pasadena Art Museum.
  • He died in Los Angeles in 1996 at age 60 from complications of end renal failure.

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