Andy Warhol Ladies and Gentlemen (F & S II.128-137)Facts | History | Meaning
Catalogue Title: Ladies and Gentlemen (F & S II.128-137) Year: 1975 Size 43 1/2″ x 28 1/2″ each 110.5 x 72.4cm Medium: Screenprint on Arches paper. Edition: Portfolio of ten screenprints, edition of 250, 25 AP, 1 PP, signed, numbered and dated '75 in pencil on verso.
Andy Warhol 'Ladies and Gentlemen' (F & S II.128-137)Meaning & History
'Drags are ambulatory archives of ideal movie star womanhood. They perform a documentary service, usually consecrating their lives to keeping the glittering alternative alive and available for (not-too-close) inspection.’ Andy Warhol
Ladies and Gentlemen is a portfolio of ten screenprints, released in 1975. Each screenprint features a different trans woman or drag queen in monochrome, with vivid colour placed in an angular fashion, enlivening the pictures.
Warhol was commissioned by Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino to produce portraits of trans women and drag queens in 1970s New York. To begin this project, he started by photographing them with a polaroid camera. The artist then used synthetic polymer paints for colour. The individual and collective power these portraits hold is undeniable: in some, such as (11.132) the subjects pose in a way that directly recalls classical art historical images, with the placement of the hand under the chin and indirect gaze. In another (11.135) small embellishes of yellow and blue surround the subject, almost appearing as if confetti surrounds her. One feels the unique personality of each subject, however, ironically, the portraits are anonymous. Titled only Ladies and Gentlemen, the icons in these pictures were never named until 2014, when the Warhol foundation published an official list of all the subjects in the series. Amongst them were prominent members of the community for their activism, such as Marsha P. Johnson, a figure in the Stonewall uprising. Another, Willhelmina Ross, provided Warhol with much inspiration, as he went on to make 73 paintings and 29 drawings of her. For Warhol, the Ladies and Gentlemen sitters are as much muses as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. As he did with Marilyn’s eyeshadow and lipstick, he enhances and manipulates the make-up of the drag queens.
On a conceptual level, the carefully crafted glamour and theatre behind drag queens fascinated Warhol. Whereas stars such as Marilyn were placed on a pedestal to represent female beauty and then commercialised, arguably drag queens could be seen the ultimate construction of femininity without the platform of the Hollywood film studios. He surmised: ‘Drags are ambulatory archives of ideal movie star womanhood. They perform a documentary service, usually consecrating their lives to keeping the glittering alternative alive and available for (not-too-close) inspection.’
Arguably the journey of the series of naming the sitters – which happened fourty years after their portrayal - mirrors the wider acceptance in the mainstream, and is a testament to the dialogue that Warhol’s works open. By the time the drag queens and trans women from Ladies and Gentlemen were named, the series was renowned in Warhol’s oeuvre, and had been exhibited in Italy.
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