Andy Warhol’s print Ladies & Gentlemen (F. & S. II.133) from the Ladies & Gentlemen series (1975) is an abstract portrait of the late Marsha P. Johnson, a key figure in the Stonewall Uprising and transgender activist. The print series remains controversial as it depicts a community that Warhol was not part of, with the subjects having very little agency in how they were portrayed and where the works would be displayed. Indeed, in an interview from 1979, Johnson pointed to the absurdity of her portrait being on sale for thousands of dollars, whilst she struggled to pay rent.
Ladies & Gentlemen (F. & S. II.133) shows Johnson smiling, as though laughing, with her head turned to the side. This print is characteristic of the joyous nature of the series, further emphasised by the expressive blocks of colour that overlay the screen print. In this portrait Johnson wears a large wig but doesn’t appear overly glamorised like some other prints in the series, making clear the sitters’ gender non-conformity.
Warhol was commissioned by the Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino to create the series in 1975, paying $900,000 for 105 canvases, arguably the artist’s largest undertaking. It was Luciano who came up with the theatrical title of the Ladies & Gentlemen series, implying that he was concerned with the dramatisation of gender, rather than the lived experiences of the sitters, many of whom were very poor and faced extreme prejudice in their daily lives.