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 video, sound and performance that subverted the power of corporate imagery on collective consciousness.

Bender emerged in the early ’80s in New York, primed to participate in the artists of the Pictures Generation’s use of appropriation with her experience at a feminist and Marxist screen-printing collective in Washington DC, where printmaking could provide a quick way to circulate important ideas and ideologies. For her, it was not enough to be able to only re-contextualize images; they also had to be hyper-current and immediately relevant so as to subvert the culture as it was developing. The Pleasure is Back works, a series of wall-based works comprised of silkscreens printed on tin juxtaposing works by her artistic peers, often men, with imagery taken from current advertising campaigns. 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. Her eventual emphasis on video 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. Initially with Wild Dead and eventually Dumping Core (1984), Bender created multichannel video installations of computer-generated graphics that used rapid-fire editing and thumping soundtracks. Initially conceived as a 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 virtuosic 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Current and Upcoming
Gretchen Bender Estate
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (We will no longer be seen and not heard), 1985
Courtesy the artist, Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Manny Alcala

Day Jobs
Group Exhibition
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford
Through July 21, 2024

One of the typical measures of success for artists is the ability to quit their day jobs and focus full time on making art. Yet these roles are not always an impediment to an artist’s career. This exhibition, which includes the work of Richard Artschwager, Gretchen Bender, Barbara Kruger and Frank Stella, among many others, illuminates how day jobs can spur creative growth by providing artists with unexpected new materials and methods, working knowledge of a specific industry that becomes an area of artistic interest or critique, or a predictable structure that opens space for unpredictable ideas.

Link
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender
The Perversion of the Visual
May 24–August 10, 2024
Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender emerged in the early 1980s in New York as a contemporary of the Pictures Generation. A commentator on the age of television, her work continues its relevancy in today’s privatized and multi-screened cultural landscape – in many ways, even predicting its development. Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers are pleased to present The Perversion of the Visual, Bender’s second exhibition with the gallery and her first in Los Angeles since 1989. The show will feature the first of her two immersive and career-defining “electronic theater” works, Dumping Core (1984), shown for the first time on the West Coast since Bender performed it in 1986. Alongside the installation will be newly printed photo-collages that address the horrors of war and the fear of a collective numbness to its reality.

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Gretchen Bender
IMAGE WORLD
February 3–March 25, 2023
London

Sprüth Magers is pleased to present a solo exhibition of work by the late Gretchen Bender, an artist who in the 1980s gained renown as a key observer of the effects of capitalist society and mass media on the human experience. Closely aligned with the appropriation strategies of the artists of the Pictures Generation, her emphasis on film and television as her source material ensured she was also an integral part of the video art movement. The show will present a number of her TV Text Image works, utilizing live television feeds across multiple monitors across two floors of the gallery, as well as unseen archival material. Simultaneously entertaining and critical, Bender's work foreshadows many of today’s immersive, virtual installations.

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Gretchen Bender Estate
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

Biography

Gretchen Bender (1951–2004) was a pioneering multidisciplinary American artist whose practice interrogated the accelerated age of mass media. Solo exhibitions include Sprüth Magers (2024, 2023), Red Bull Arts, New York (2019), The Kitchen, New York; The Poor Farm, WI (2012), Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY (1991), Meyers/Bloom, Los Angeles (1989), Metro Pictures, New York (1988), and Nature Morte, New York (1986, 1985, 1983, 1982). Selected group shows include Cantor Arts Center, Stanford; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin (2023; 2024), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2023, 2019–2023), The Menil Collection, Houston (2023), Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth (2023), UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2022), The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. (2018), Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2018, 2003), 2014 Whitney Biennial, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2014), Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2012), New Museum, New York (2004, 1986), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1993), Wexner Center, Columbus, OH (1990), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1989, 1988, 1982), Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1989), Monika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne (1987), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1987), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1987), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (1986), Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna (1985).

Education
1973 BFA University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Performances (selected)
1989 Total Recall, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Total Recall, Steirischer Herbst, Graz
1988 Total Recall, Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX
1987 Total Recall, Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Dumping Core III, Sydney Biennial, Australia
1986 Dumping Core II, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, Vienna
1985 Dumping Core II, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles
1984 Dumping Core I, The Kitchen, New York
Unprotected, CEPA Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Wild Dead, International Video Festival, Rome
Wild Dead, International with Monument, New York
Wild Dead, Donnell Library, New York
Wild Dead, Danceteria, New York
Freedom of Information, Theâtre de la Ville, Paris; traveled to Sadler Wells Theatre, London; Akademie der Kunst, Berlin; Joyce Theater, New York
Untitled, International with Monument, New York
1983 Reality Fever, Nature More, New York
Special Projects and Collaborations (selected)
1995 Co-director with Bill T. Jones of adaptation of the performance Still/Here for television
1994 Designed visual concept and media environment for Still/Here, an evening length dance theater by Bill T. Jones. Premiered at Lyons International Festival. Two-year world tour.
1990 Created 16mm black-and-white film for A Mother of Three Sons, a dance opera by Bill T. Jones. Houston, TX Grand Opera; Lincoln Center New York. Fall 1991 tour.
1987 Visual concept with Bill T. Jones for A Dream Have I, a duet for two men with television. Performed at PS122.
1985 4-channel video set for Picture History, a speech on television, directed and performed by George Trow with Harold Brodkey, Dec 2-4, New York
Public Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Menil Collection, Houston
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Tate Modern, London