On andy warhol’s “ladies and gentlemen” (& where to draw the line with an idolized artist)

In this blog post, we share an excerpt from an essay by Mishkin Gallery Research Assistant Sofia Melendez (she/they). In the essay, Sofia revisits Andy Warhol’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” series (a polaroid from the series, “Ladies and Gentlemen: Lurdes” (1974), is part of the Mishkin Gallery collection), examining how Warhol’s series simultaneously celebrated and exploited the trans community that it depicted. Sofia explores the political, financial, and moral dilemmas of Warhol’s relationship to the black & latine trans women and drag queens that sat for the “Ladies and Gentleman” series, and asks us to reconsider how the art historical canon remembers both the artist and subjects of this series. Read the full essay here.

By Sofia Melendez

the subtitle of the 1979 village voice article entitled “stonewall 1979: the drag of politics”, written by journalist steve watson, remarks: “Marsha (P. Johnson)’s position on Christopher Street is double-edged. A martyr of gay liberation, (s)he is denied entrance to many bars. Andy Warhol silkscreens of Marsha sell for $1400 while Marsha walks the sidewalk outside, broke.” (1)

andy warhol (1928-1987), deemed by some “the pope of pop art”, was at an all-time high in the 1970’s: a frequent studio 54 patron who received commissions from kajillionaires, ran his own magazine, & was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from his work. he tended to focus on themes of celebrity, pop culture, and glamour, but in the mid 70’s he decided to delve into a new subject matter.

andy warhol, ladies and gentlemen, 1975. silkscreen. set 93 of 125 of the original prints. images from sotheby’s.

warhol’s 1974 series ladies and gentlemen was commissioned by luciano anselmino, an esteemed art dealer. encompassing polaroids & colorful screen prints, it shone a spotlight on black & latine trans women & drag queens who frequented nightlife hotspots in greenwich village.

dear reader, however celebratory in tone these works may seem, there is more under the surface that upset me and will probably affect you as well. andy warhol, with this series, exploited these marginalized communities monetarily and socially, giving them no agency in how their images were reproduced or where they were sold. it makes you wonder where one draws a line in art history: do we purposefully ignore a creator’s biography and personal beliefs in favor of their innovations? do we acknowledge their deep-rooted flaws and throw their body of work in the trashcan? is there a grey area to be found?



(1) Steve Watson, “Stonewall 1979: The Drag of Politics,” The Village Voice, June 15, 1979 / October 14, 2020, https://www.villagevoice.com/2019/06/04/stonewall-1979-the-drag-of-politics/.