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Joan Semmel, the veteran artist who is never afraid to have skin in the game

2 min read  · 22 Jun 2023

Joan Semmel, Skin in the Game (2019). Copyright the artist. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Copyright ADAGP, Paris

Joan Semmel is on the HENI News radar as a major museum survey of the veteran artist’s vibrant paintings of ageing female bodies goes on show in the US.

Joan Semmel’s HENI Score—a unique artist sentiment—has risen an impressive 121% after “Joan Semmel: Skin in the Game” opened in Philadelphia and then headed to upstate New York. An artist’s HENI score amalgamates data such as auction sales, NFT sales, news and social media mentions, gallery shows and museum exhibitions.


Semmel’s paintings have been offered from around $75,000 to $200,000 over the past two years. Her auction sales have totaled only $6,000 in the same period, for a single work, a 1978 untitled drawing sold on Christie’s Online in 2021, a reflection of the persistent male bias of the art market. But in 2018 at Christie's Semmel's untitled 1972 painting sold for $187,500, more than six times it upper estimate as interest in first-wave feminist art began to grow.


Semmel’s paintings have been presented at major art fairs, including editions of Art Basel, Frieze London and Frieze LA.

The artist is represented by Alexander Gray Associates, which has organised solo shows of her work, most recently in 2021 in its New York and Germantown spaces. In 2022, Morán Morán presented Semmel’s first solo gallery exhibition in Mexico in its Mexico City space.

The artist’s Mexican debut coincided with the opening of "Joan Semmel: Skin in the Game", a retrospective organised by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which traveled in 2023 to the Herbert F Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NewYork.

Semmel’s importance in contemporary debates around gender politics in art is underlined by the inclusion of her paintings in shows such as the feminist critique of Picasso, "It's Pablo-matic," at the Brooklyn Museum in 2023, and the group show “Hardcore” at Sadie Cole HQ in London the same year.

Joan Semmel, Body & Sole (2004). Copyright the artist. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York


Born in 1932, Semmel began her career as an abstract expressionist in the 1960s. She turned to figuration when she moved to New York in the 1970s, becoming a pioneering feminist artist. Her groundbreaking, large-scale paintings of female and male bodies, the “Sex Paintings” and “Erotic Series”, explored moments of intimacy and female sexuality.

Since the 1980s she has been painting the ageing female body in vibrant colors she used as a young abstract artist. She often creates photographic self-portraits as a starting point for her paintings of bodies, typically in unconventional poses and from acute angles, which defy negative stereotypes about ageing.

Semmel recently told Aware (Archives of Women Artists, Research, Exhibitions): “My work deals with ageing because I started to get older. One day, you look at the mirror and say ‘Who is that person? That’s not me anymore!’”

Find out more

To get a deeper understanding of Joan Semmel’s career visit her HENI Dashboard; a unique graphical data tool illustrating an artist’s auction sales, shows, profiles, mentions and their HENI Score. You can search for any one of the 100,000 Artist Dashboards to quickly appreciate their trajectory as well as sharing via email, text and WhatsApp.


Joan Semmel

New York