Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender. Photo: Hans Neleman

 

Gretchen Bender (1951–2004) was an influential figure in late twentieth-century American art and a key observer of the effects of the inundation of mass media on the human experience. The immersive “electronic theater” installations that she produced in New York in the 1980s are groundbreaking mixtures of sculpture, video, sound and performance that subverted the power of corporate imagery on collective consciousness and prefigured the practices of many younger artists in the post-Internet age.

Part of the first generation raised on television, Bender began her career as part of a feminist and Marxist screen-printing collective in Washington, DC. After moving to New York, Bender created The Pleasure is Back in the early 1980s, a series of wall-based works comprised of silkscreens and photographs printed on tin; in cruciform arrangements. She juxtaposed works by historical and contemporary artists with imagery shot straight from television screens—faces twisted in pleasure or pain, at times gruesome and difficult to view. This strategy of appropriation aligned her with artists of the Pictures Generation, such as Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince. Yet her emphasis on film and television as source material, and her embrace of spaces beyond galleries and institutions, set her apart from her peers.

 

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Bender pivoted to using moving images themselves in 1984, with projects that catalyzed her efforts to understand and examine media spectacle from within. In both Wild Dead and Dumping Core (1984), which premiered respectively at single-evening events in a New York discotheque and the nonprofit art space The Kitchen, Bender created multichannel video installations of computer-generated graphics that used rapid-fire editing and thumping soundtracks. Part sculpture, part theatrical experience, these works paved the way for her 1987 masterwork Total Recall, a visual symphonic display across twenty-four monitors and three projections that combines fragments of films, commercials and news broadcasts. Bender’s alluring, virtuoso editing skills, pulled directly from mass media but intensified to an extreme, forces spectators to become active participants in the viewing experience rather than passive, late-capitalist consumers.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Bender produced sculptures using innovative techniques and materials, including the monumental installation People in Pain (1988). Crumpled sheets of shiny black vinyl line an over forty-foot-long wall, backlit by blue neon; each displays the name of a movie then in production, which Bender culled from the pages of Variety and other Hollywood trade magazines. While some titles are still recognizable, most are long forgotten, such that the work marks the passage of time and eulogizes the labor and memory constantly lost to history in the fast-paced information age.

Nearly twenty years after her death, Bender’s works still function to critique the conflation of violence and spectacle in mass communications, as well as the loss of empathy and political agency in the age of corporate media. Simultaneously entertaining and critical, they foreshadow many of today’s immersive, virtual installations—new technologies that Bender would surely have explored herself.

 

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Eight-channel video on 24 monitors and three rear projection screens
18:03 min (excerpt)

 

Works
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (Metro Pictures), 1986

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (Metro Pictures), 1986
Live television broadcast on 12 monitors, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable

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Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Enamel ink silkscreened on sign tin
182.9 × 182.9 cm
72 × 72 inches

Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Four-channel video, color and sound on thirteen monitors
13:00 min

More views
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (PEOPLE WITH AIDS), 1986

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (PEOPLE WITH AIDS), 1986
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable

Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
American Flag, 1989

Gretchen Bender
American Flag, 1989
Printed fabric
182.9 × 274.3 cm
72 × 108 inches

More views
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin Time on Planet Earth), 1988

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin' Time on Planet Earth), 1988
Silkscreen and paint on heat set vinyl, neon, transformers
53.3 × 83.8 × 48.3 cm
21 × 33 × 19 inches

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Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Photographs on Masonite mounted on wooden armature
101.6 × 304.8 × 153.7 cm
40 × 120 × 60 1/2 inches

More views
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Entertainment Cocoon), 1992

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Entertainment Cocoon), 1982
Laminated thermal transfer print
92.4 × 119.4 cm
36 3/8 × 47 inches

Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Eight-channel video on 24 monitors and three rear projection screens
18:02 min

More views
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (NOSTALGIA), 1989

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (NOSTALGIA), 1989
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable

More views
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987
Laminated color photographs
304.8 × 152.4 cm
120 × 60 inches

Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Enamel ink silkscreened on sign tin
56.2 × 56.5 cm
22 1/8 × 22 1/4 inches

Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Enamel ink silkscreened on sign tin
182.9 × 182.9 cm (overall)
72 × 72 inches (overall)

Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender
Reality Fever, 1983

Gretchen Bender
Reality Fever, 1983
Single-channel video on monitor
6:20 min

More views
Details
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (Metro Pictures), 1986
Live television broadcast on 12 monitors, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (Metro Pictures), 1986
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (Metro Pictures), 1986

Gretchen Bender
TV Text and Image (Metro Pictures Version), 1986
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (Metro Pictures), 1986

Gretchen Bender
TV Text and Image (Metro Pictures Version), 1986
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Enamel ink silkscreened on sign tin
182.9 × 182.9 cm
72 × 72 inches

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Four-channel video, color and sound on thirteen monitors
13:00 min

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (PEOPLE WITH AIDS), 1986
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (PEOPLE WITH AIDS), 1986
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
American Flag, 1989
Printed fabric
182.9 × 274.3 cm
72 × 108 inches

Gretchen Bender
American Flag, 1989
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
American Flag, 1989

Gretchen Bender
American Flag, 1989
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin' Time on Planet Earth), 1988
Silkscreen and paint on heat set vinyl, neon, transformers
53.3 × 83.8 × 48.3 cm
21 × 33 × 19 inches

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin Time on Planet Earth), 1988
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin' Time on Planet Earth), 1988

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin Time on Planet Earth), 1988
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin' Time on Planet Earth), 1988

Gretchen Bender
People in Pain (Doin' Time on Planet Earth), 1988
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Photographs on Masonite mounted on wooden armature
101.6 × 304.8 × 153.7 cm
40 × 120 × 60 1/2 inches

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Entertainment Cocoon), 1982
Laminated thermal transfer print
92.4 × 119.4 cm
36 3/8 × 47 inches

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Entertainment Cocoon), 1992
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Eight-channel video on 24 monitors and three rear projection screens
18:02 min

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987

Gretchen Bender
Total Recall, 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (NOSTALGIA), 1989
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (NOSTALGIA), 1989
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (NOSTALGIA), 1989

Gretchen Bender
TV Text Image (NOSTALGIA), 1989
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987
Laminated color photographs
304.8 × 152.4 cm
120 × 60 inches

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Enamel ink silkscreened on sign tin
56.2 × 56.5 cm
22 1/8 × 22 1/4 inches

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Enamel ink silkscreened on sign tin
182.9 × 182.9 cm (overall)
72 × 72 inches (overall)

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (The Pleasure is Back), 1982
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Reality Fever, 1983
Single-channel video on monitor
6:20 min

Gretchen Bender
Reality Fever, 1983
Gretchen Bender Estate
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
Reality Fever, 1983

Gretchen Bender
Reality Fever, 1983
Details
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Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Press

Disinformation and the Death Star: The Legacy of Gretchen Bender
Hyperallergic, online, article by Tiernan Morgan, July 12, 2021

Gretchen Bender’s ‘Visual Worlds at the Century’s End’
Frieze, online, article by Masha Tupitsyn, March 26, 2019

Cindy Sherman interviews Gretchen Bender
Bomb, online, interview by Cindy Sherman, originally published in winter 1987

Pioneering Video Artist Gretchen Bender Predicted Our Obsession with Screens
Artsy, online, article by Brianna Rettig, May 22, 2019

Gretchen Bender at Red Bull Arts Center
Artforum International, article by Lane Relyea, May 2019

Biography

Gretchen Bender (1951–2004) was a pioneering American multi-disciplinary artist whose practice interrogated the accelerated age of mass media. Solo exhibitions include Red Bull Arts, New York (2019), Everson Museum, Syracuse; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (both 1991) and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1988). Selected group shows include the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2018, 1986), New Museum, New York (2004, 1986), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2012) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1989). Exhibitions of Total Recall followed at the Kitchen, New York, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (both 1987), Tate, Liverpool and Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (both 2015). Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Menil Collection, Houston.

Awards and Grants
1997 Anonymous Was A Woman Art Matters Foundation Fellowship 
1995 Bessie Award, Visual Concept and Set Design, Still/Here, Bill T. Jones/Artie Zane Company  
1985 Art Matters Foundation Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts 
Public Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Menil Collection, Houston, TX
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Tate Modern, London