Work of the Week: Joan Semmel’s ‘Hold Tight’

Lust was in the air during this Valentine's Day sale, which more than doubled the nonagenarian feminist painter's auction record.

Joan Semmel, Hold Tight (1973). Courtesy of Fair Warning.

New York artist Joan Semmel is seeing her market take off after painting for the better part of a century. Known for her vibrant and sensual nudes, Hold Tight exemplifies her practice with its tightly cropped, intensely carnal imagery—perfect fodder for a Valentine’s Day sale.

Love, or maybe lust, was clearly in the air on February 14 as beguiled bidders drove the price to more than three times its presale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 when Hold Tight went live on Fair Warning, a private online auction platform. Launched by Loïc Gouzer, the former head of contemporary art at Christie’s, the site only features one lot per sale.

The winning bid of $402,500 more than doubled Semmel’s auction record to date, which was set in 2018 at Christie’s New York when an untitled 1972 canvas sold for $187,500. That figure was a prodigious 525 percent gain on its presale estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, according to the Artnet Price Database.

Semmel, 91, began her career as an Abstract Expressionist in the 1950s but pivoted to figuration well before it became trendy again. Her “Sex Series” (1971) and “Erotic Series” (1972), which explored female desire and subverted the male gaze, put her at the vanguard of feminist art.

Her recent explorations of the aging female form will be featured in a solo show opening in April at the Belgian gallery Xavier Hufkens, which will begin representing the artist this spring. Semmel’s last solo exhibitions in Europe were in 1966 and 1969; these were also her very first solo shows. The artist has been represented by Alexander Gray Associates since 2010.

Work of the Week is excerpted from The Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know art industry intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access—subscribe now to receive this in your inbox every Friday.

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