So Much Deathless
March 6-July 28, 2019
Red Bull Arts New York
220 W 18th Street
10011 New York, NY
“In this culture people who want to hold on to power realize that they have to control memory-past, present, and future. Although we’re so sophisticated in some ways, we continue to permit ourselves to be manipulated.”
-Gretchen Bender, artist statement, 1987
Red Bull Arts New York is proud to present Gretchen Bender: So Much Deathless, the first posthumous retrospective of the life and work of the influential, multi-disciplinary artist. Opening to the public on March 6, 2019, and remaining on view until July 28, the ambitious exhibition returns the spotlight to one of contemporary art’s most prescient figures, detailing her historic importance and contemporary relevance.
Gretchen Bender (1951-2004) was a pioneering artist who worked across video, sculpture, computer graphics, photography, print and installation to interrogate the accelerated age of mass media. Moving to New York in 1978, Bender quickly fell in with the Post-Pictures Generation scene, centered around the artist-run gallery Nature Morte, as well as a milieu of artist and performers connected to The Kitchen. She befriended and collaborated with such figures as artists Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, the choreographers Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, and musicians Stuart Argabright and Vernon Reid. Building upon techniques developed in her years running a feminist-Marxist screen-printing collective in Washington, D.C., Bender’s early two-dimensional work, made in New York, abstracted and juxtaposed images appropriated from across the visual spectrum: from other artists, the news cycle, and corporate and military advertising. The effect was a disturbing barrage that spoke to the accelerating power of the image in the coming digital age.
Bender’s later shift to moving-image work, first with single-channel videos, and then with her immersive “electronic theatre” projects–massive installations such as the 13-monitor, 4-channel Dumping Core (1984), and the 24-monitor, 3-projection, 8-channel Total Recall (1987)—predict the near totalizing image-saturation of the coming decades, and find the artist further infiltrating modes of cultural transmission. Bender understood society to be on the precipice of a vast change, with the technologically mediated image less a warning sign than a guide. Speaking to this complicated dialectic between critique and embrace, alongside her art practice, Bender went a step further into subverting and infiltrating mainstream media platforms through her hired commercial work, including the now-iconic intro sequence for America’s Most Wanted, and developing music videos, often in collaboration with Robert Longo, for bands like R.E.M., New Order, Megadeth, and Babes in Toyland.
When Bender died in 2004, at the age of 53, the media climate that she had long anticipated was well on its way to reality–a “cannibalistic river” and seamless totality of screens, social media, smartphones, visual and data-tracking surveillance, the melding of politics and entertainment, and fake news. Gretchen Bender: So Much Deathless serves as both critique and map of the contemporary landscape, a guide to how viewers might navigate through their world. Developed in close collaboration with the Gretchen Bender Estate, and bolstered by extensive oral histories with many of her notable peers and friends, the exhibition will include examples of every major body of work in Bender’s oeuvre, from her early photographic installations to the studies and archival material surrounding her magnum opus, which was to be entitled So Much Deathless, left unrealized due to her untimely death. The exhibition will also feature Bender’s monumental work of electronic theatre entitled Total Recall (1987), and artworks and videos that have not been exhibited since the 80s or 90s, newly restored by Red Bull Arts New York.
About Red Bull Arts
Founded in 2013, Red Bull Arts New York is an experimental, non-commercial arts space dedicated to the cultivation and advancement of the arts. The organization focuses on extending the boundaries of exhibition making; supporting the production of new work by emerging and established artists; presenting historical surveys; and contributing to the ongoing dialogue around contemporary issues and thought.
Images above: Gretchen Bender, 1986. Courtesy of Red Bull Arts New York. (C) Hans Neleman. (1) AT&T in Slow Motion, 1984. C-print, 30 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the Gretchen Bender Estate and OSMOS. (2) YOU & ME ACCESSIBLE, 1984. Computer graphics slides on lightbox, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the Gretchen Bender Estate and OSMOS. (3) Untitled (The Pleasures is Back), 1982. Photo silkscreen on enameled sign tin, 22 1/8 x 22 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the Gretchen Bender Estate and OSMOS.