One Work: Joan Semmel’s “Ready”

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The girl is nude and seated, her torso leaning forward. Her appropriate hand rests on her left thigh, while her left arm helps her from behind. She seems to be out a neatly-organized window, the light warming her naked flesh, streaking her breasts with creamy bands of sunshine. The title of this describe, Ready (2020), informs us that the sitter is awaiting one thing or somebody—but what or whom is left unstated. Her temper is equally inscrutable; her eyes, which might offer a note into her psyche, are cropped out, hovering above the canvas’s upper edge.

All one is left to elaborate is the body. And as in the complete self-portraits in “A Balancing Act”—an exhibition of most up-to-date work by Joan Semmel at both branches of Alexander Grey Associates in Contemporary York—this body speaks in a vexing language of contradictory terms. Semmel, who’s in her late eighties, is luxurious in her nudity. Her breasts hold full and comely; her skin, tinged with pastel pinks, oranges, and yellows, is supple and unruffled. In her pose, on the different hand, the artist seems sick relaxed, miserable in the same skin she has painted with such tenderness. Searching more closely, one sees that her torso isn’t leaning so powerful as contorted, her appropriate hand not resting so powerful as absorbing. Her left arm is so inflexible that, at the starting put, I mistook it for a wooden part of the window body. Can this body endure the anticipation evoked in the describe’s title?

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The series on gape at Alexander Grey will likely be interpreted as Semmel’s exploration of her getting older body, but it completely reads more broadly as a mirrored image on corporeal vulnerability, particularly resonant in a three hundred and sixty five days saturated by fears of sickness and infection. With Ready, Semmel asks with particular flair a request articulated across the exhibition: How attain you continue to esteem a body that you just mistrust, one which will not be any longer uncomplicated to inhabit?

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