Gretchen Bender (1951–2004) was a pioneering American multi-disciplinary artist whose practice interrogated the accelerated age of mass media. She came to prominence in the 1980s as a post-appropriation artist in New York, where her work was first presented at non-profit art spaces like the Kitchen, Artists Space, and White Columns. Her work was also exhibited at Lower East Side galleries Nature Morte and International and Monument, as well as at Metro Pictures, then located in Soho. Her work was included in the seminal group exhibition Forest of Signs (1989) curated by Ann Goldstein at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, as well as in group exhibitions at the New Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. From 1987 to 1991 Bender had one-person museum exhibitions at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Reflecting the increasing interest in Bender’s prescient work amongst artists, the Poor Farm in rural Wisconsin staged Tracking the Thrill in 2012, a focused survey of Bender’s video work highlighted by a presentation of her epic 1987 “electronic theater” work Total Recall. Exhibitions of Total Recall followed at the Kitchen; Tate, Liverpool; Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin; and at Art Basel Unlimited with Metro Pictures in 2016. Bender’s 1988 work People in Pain, reconstructed by artist Philip Vanderhyden, was prominently featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. In 2019 Red Bull Arts New York presented the critically acclaimed So Much Deathless, the first posthumous retrospective of Bender’s work.
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. Bender was the recipient of a New Genres Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985, a Bessie Award in 1995 for her visual concept and set design for Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company’s Still/Here at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, an Anonymous Was A Woman award in 1997, and Art Matters Foundation fellowships in 1987 and 1997.