Joan Semmel (b. New York, 1932) studied at the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute and the Art Student’s League of New York. She began her painting career in Spain and South America in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, she returned to New York, where her practice turned towards figurative paintings, many with erotic themes, in response to pornography, popular culture, and concerns around representation. Her museum shows include: Shifting the Gaze at the Jewish Museum (2010); Rebelle at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem, The Netherlands (2009); Solitaire: Lee Lozano, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Joan Semmel at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2008); and the touring exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Movement, MoCA, Los Angeles (2007).
Semmel's paintings are part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Blanton Museum, Austin, TX; Orange County Museum of Art, CA; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; the Jocelyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE; the Jewish Museum, New York; and the Brooklyn Museum.
She is the recipient of numerous grants, including Anonymous Was a Woman and the National Endowment for the Arts awards. She is Professor Emeritus of Painting at Rutgers University.
About her work, Semmel has noted, “Much of the revolutionary nature of Feminist art has been a seeking for new forms to invent a voice free of the dominant patriarchal tradition of the past. I have tried to find a contemporary language in which I could retain my delight in the sensuality and pleasure of painting, and still confront the particulars of my own personal experience as a woman. My intention has been to subvert the tradition of the passive female nude. The issues of the body from desire to aging, as well as those of identity and cultural imprinting have been at the core of my concerns. Sexuality for women has changed radically in the last century, and the possibility for female autonomy is connected to these changes.”