Beverly Semmes (American, b.1958) is a sculptor, photographer, videographer, and textile and performance artist. Born in Washington, D.C., Semmes received a BA in art history, and a BFA, after attending the Boston Museum School, Skowhegan School of Art, and Tufts University. She then studied at the New York Studio School and Yale School of Art, where she received an MFA in 1987.
Semmes first began showing her works in the early 1990s, and quickly became known for her
oversized articles of clothing, primarily dresses, which she alters by elongating the arms and hemming the length to extend to the floor, encouraging the excess fabric to gather at the bottom of the installation. There is a surrealistic tone to much of Semmes’s work, and even when offering cultural critique, her works have a humorous edge. In 1995, the artist designed costumes and sets for the French choreographer Mathilde Monnier in Montpellier, France. This collaborative production, titled Nuit, continues to tour worldwide today.
Her recent work, The Feminist Responsibility Project (FRP) explores desire, meaning, and visual pleasure through drawn- and painted-over images of women from pornography magazines. These works were shown in conjunction with ceramic vessels, evocative of prehistoric fertility sculptures.
In collaboration with fashion designer Jennifer Minniti, Semmes launched The CarWash Collective in 2014. The project produces clothing constructed from fabric digitally printed with images from the FRP—garments that teasingly reveal more skin than the censored images they display. Recent exhibitions have accessorized the clothing with ceramics from Semmes’ Sketchpots series—fleshy, heavy, impractical “anti-ceramics” that riff on and complicate the historically feminine form of the vessel. A 2017 gallery fashion show featured both non-professional and professional models, with a variety of body types, outfitted in CarWash apparel. CarWash Collective hosted their own version of a Step & Repeat photo session/fashion performance in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s palatial Hall of Architecture on March 21, 2019 during the finale weekend of activities of the Carnegie International 57.
Semmes currently teaches at Cornell University’s Architecture, Art, and Planning Department’s Semester in NYC Program. She maintains long-term teaching affiliations with the NYU Steinhardt Art Department and the Pratt Institute Department of Fine Art and Design. Her work is included in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.; the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Denver Art Museum, Colorado; the Walker Art Museum, Minnesota; the Albright Knox Art Gallery, New York; and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.