Art Basel Miami Beach
Miami Beach Convention Center
1901 Convention Center Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Alexander Gray Associates presented recent paintings and drawings by Joan Semmel (b.1932). A defining feminist artist, Semmel has explored representation through her ground-breaking use of color, scale, and perspective as well as her command of the painterly language through self-portraiture.
Semmel’s recent work combines and elaborates on conceptual and formal concerns that echo some of her previous series that have focused on representation of the aging female body. The artist has layered two figures, one depicted in naturalistic detail, and the other as a painted outline, recalling motifs from both her “Overlays” and “Echoing Images.” About this relationship to past work she noted, “it’s all there. Everything I’ve ever done is in it, and yet it’s new.” Her paintings from 2015 and 2016 are executed with a virtuoso application of abstract color. As in her early “Sex Paintings” and “Erotic Series,” color serves for the artist as a means of distinguishing her nude figures from the realm of pornography. When she does depict figures in naturalistic color, Semmel crops the composition so closely as to abstract the body to the point that it reads as a landscape. Included in the presentation was Yellow Sky (2015), the first work in this series. Demonstrative of Semmel’s passion for painting, she bridges abstraction and representation through saturated colors and superimposed images that seem to enter the viewer’s space. Semmel depicts her flesh in a vibrant green, and yet she carefully mottles the paint thus simultaneously evoking fantasy and an unidealized reality. Working across five decades, Semmel considers the unifying element throughout her body of work “a single perspective: being inside the experience of femaleness and taking possession of it culturally.” Her work over the last half century firmly situates the female body as a place for autonomy and a vehicle to challenge the objectification and fetishization of female sexuality and the invisibility of the female aging body.
The Gallery’s Kabinett presentation featured paintings by Hugh Steers (b.1962—d.1995). Steers embraced representation and figuration at a time when such approaches were especially unfashionable, capturing the emotional and political tenor of New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the impact of Queer identity and the AIDS crisis. The presentation was anchored by one large-scale painting, Hospital Bed (1993), in which Steers depicts two male figures, likely lovers, entwined in a hospital bed. A complementary selection of works on paper further addresses the topics he most often depicted, including illness, isolation, alienation, companionship, and sexuality. As art historian, James Smalls explains, “Implicating the viewer in the space of his protagonists, [Steers’] canvases are populated with ordinary, unglamorous, real individuals bonded by a collective ordeal. Their world is likewise one in which men bond in communal suffering and are heroic in empathy for one another.”
Steers studied under Semmel at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture during the summer of 1991, a turning point in his practice, when he began using brighter colors and more pronounced natural light to display a sense of immediacy. The dual presentations highlights Steers’ and Semmel’s interest in sexual politics and identity, utilizing color to emphasize texture and the presence of light in their compositions. Both artists display a deep commitment to figuration, particularly the representation of marginalized subjects—aging women and gay men— in vulnerable and intimate settings.
About Art Basel Miami Beach
Leading galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa show historical work from the masters of Modern and contemporary art, as well as newly created pieces by emerging stars. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, films, and editioned works of the highest quality are on display at the main exhibition hall, while ambitious artworks and performances become part of the landscape at nearby beaches, Collins Park and SoundScape Park.