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Joan Semmel, Transformation, 2010, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".

Joan Semmel

Alexander Gray Associates

Joan Semmel, Transformation, 2010, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".

I first encountered works by Joan Semmel during my undergraduate education, in an introductory contemporary art class. The slides I was shown were of those canvases for which the artist is best known, produced in the mid-1970s, that portray sexual scenes from the perspective of one of the participants, Semmel herself. Incorporating a Polaroid aesthetic and rude, raw washes of color, Semmel’s approach—I think of a canonical piece like Intimacy/Autonomy, 1974—gave rise to an unlikely effect both piquantly pornographic and uncannily clinical. That I was confronting these pictures during the mid-1990s (and thus some twenty years after they were made), and at a cultural moment supposedly more comfortable with (or at least rife with) images of the nude body (and particularly the nude female body), would suggest that their impact might be softened. But this was not the case—I

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