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Andy Warhol’s portraits of drag queens and trans women to go on display at the Tate Modern

Josh Milton October 29, 2019
'Helen/Harry Morales', part of 'Ladies and Gentleman' series by American pop artist Andy Warhol. (The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc / Artists Right Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London)

'Helen/Harry Morales', part of 'Ladies and Gentleman' series by American pop artist Andy Warhol. (The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc / Artists Right Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London)

An array of vivid portraits of drag queens and trans women by Andy Warhol are about to get their 15 minutes of fame as part of a major exhibition at London’s Tate Modern.

The sweeping retrospective  – the largest in the UK – will show a personal side to the Pop art master. Exploring his work through the lenses of sexuality, religion and death.

Curators behind one of the city’s leading galleries scored a coup, they revealed yesterday in a press release, as 25 little-known paintings of black and Latinx drag queens and trans women will be featured in next year’s exhibition.

An entire room of the monumental exhibition will be taken over by the portraits, many of which have never been in public view before.

Many of the pieces form the Ladies and Gentlemen collection were first on view at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last year.

Little known Andy Warhol portrait of trans trailblazer Marsha P. Johnson to go on show. 

Originally commissioned in 1974 by art dealer Luciano Anselmino, the paintings formed Warhol’s ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ series.

The commission followed the death of trans actor Candy Darling, whose powdery blonde hair was often a muse of Warhol.

Warhol and his friend Bob Colacello in 1974 opened the doors of the Gilded Grape just off Times Square in New York City to find new sitters for the commission.

The club on the corner of Eighth Avenue and West 45th Street was a hub for the city’s trans black and Latinx communities.

Colacello would ask patrons if they’d like to model for Warhol – they’d be paid $50 – which led to 250 brightly coloured portraits capturing the vivacious 70s queer scene.

Research by the Andy Warhol Foundation identified all but one of the 14 sitters decades later. One of whom was Marsha P Johnson, a trailblazer in the 1969 Stonewall uprising that charted the course of LGBT+ civil rights for decades to come.

Private collectors have lent 25 of these pieces to the Tate Modern for the exhibition.

Legendary artist ‘more relevant’ than ever before, says Tate Modern director.

The works had gathered dust in storage for years, Gregor Muir, a Tate co-curator and director, explained. Making the unveiling of the works within the white walls of the Tate even more historic.

“I had heard there might be these paintings in existence and I met the people who own them now and I went to visit them and it was quite the most remarkable thing,” he said.

“They were mostly in storage and it was just very beautiful and exciting to pull out these paintings and handle them and start to look through each and every work.”

He added: “It is remarkably contemporary and a series that not that many people will be familiar with.

“Through today’s lens it is particularly relevant with the recent anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. I think this was a project that was close to Warhol’s heart.”

Frances Morris, Tate Modern director, said Warhol was an “artist who feels more relevant and influential today than ever”.

She said: “In today’s climate, it feels important to take a more human and more personal look at somebody who was a very familiar artist.”

Andy Warhol opens on March 12 until September 6. Tickets are on sale at tate.org.uk

More: Andy Warhol, London, Marsha P Johnson, Tate Modern

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