Economy Now

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Andy Warhol on the unemployment rate

January 31, 2013: 8:37 AM ET

Move over Campbell's soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. Andy Warhol also drew the U.S. unemployment rate.

This Warhol rendition of the unemployment rate is on the auction block at Christie's, estimated to bring between $20,000 and $30,000. It documents the early 1980s recession, when the jobless rate rose from 6.3% in 1980 to as high as 10.8% in December 1982.

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The piece is about 23 inches high by 31 inches wide and is made of ink on paper. Amy Cappellazzo, who heads the sale for Christie's, explains that it's a commentary on how economic data became part of pop culture in the Reagan era.

"It's a pretty typical Warhol image of the period," she said. "Economic data has become popular culture. While we used to think of it as being some kind of verified information only for people who are really knowledgeable about the economy, it's popular culture now. You can talk to a taxi driver about it."

As of December, the unemployment rate was 7.8%, down from 10% at the height of the Great Recession in 2009. On Friday morning, we will get the latest data for January, when the Labor Department releases the figures.

"The piece has a tremendous sense of humor and resonance for anybody who works in the financial field," said Cappellazzo. "The other funny thing about this object is the timeliness of it."

The online-only auction includes 125 of Warhol's paintings, drawings, photographs and prints. One other economic chart is also in the lot, depicting the fluctuation in health care costs between 1978 and 1984. It's aptly named "Medical Inflation."

The proceeds support Warhol Foundation grants for artists and non-profit arts organizations.

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