Rendered in the artist’s signature charcoal, Untitled by Robert Longo embodies the creative milieu of New York in the early 1980s. Stretching nearly five feet tall, the work constitutes a compelling portrait of the artist Gretchen Bender, who, along with Longo, was associated with the Pictures Generation. Like her peers Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, Bender appropriated elements from popular culture and repositioned them in her art in order to expose the widespread mediation of reality, producing a captivating body of work encompassing film, photography and installation. Bender also had a close relationship with Longo, and edited a number of music videos that Longo had directed for bands such as R.E.M. and New Order. Over the years, Bender has received particular praise for her characteristic rapid-fire, staccato-like editing, a style that pressed her audience’s attention spans and still proves relevant today. Speaking later about Bender’s editing, Longo compared watching Bender work with “experiencing her nervous system” (A. Russeth, “‘Gretchen Bender: Tracking the Thrill’ at The Kitchen,” New York Observer, September 3, 2013, http://observer.com/2013/09/gretchen-bender-tracking-the-thrill-at-the-kitchen/#ixzz3FfNDdsm1, accessed October 9, 2014).
Although she worked along similar concerns with the other Pictures Generation artists, and showed in many of the same exhibitions, Bender’s work has not received the same level of renown as her contemporaries, a fact necessarily complicated by her untimely death at age 53. Acknowledgement of her artistic legacy has grown since her passing, and Longo’s close relationship with Bender is documented in the present work through the artist’s careful use of crisp form and silky layers of obsidian black and soft grey charcoal.