Since the late 1980s, Sadie Benning (b. 1973, Madison, Wisconsin) has innovated across mediums, first with animated video works and later with paintings whose fractured surfaces invoke cinematic montage. Shot on a Fisher-Price PixelVision toy camera, Benning’s early shorts are confessional narratives comprising intimate performance, handwritten text, and popular music—artifacts of Generation X youth and do-it-yourself culture. The works reflect Benning’s coming-of-age as a queer adolescent in the American Midwest. With the 2007 series “Suspended Animation,” Benning first began to work with paint, creating works composed of crude sketches and doodles that reference comic book storyboards. Subsequently, Benning’s paintings have grown in complexity to include abstraction, collage, relief, and photography.
Blue and White Painting Sequence is made up of sixteen panels, each just larger than the size of a sheet of copy paper, painted with concentric blue bands. The work evokes the seriality and patterning of Minimalism and Op art, yet is characterized by irregularity and intimacy. The contrast of the blue and white grid with its organic lines is amplified by Benning’s signature painting technique—using a molded relief support that gives the work substance and depth. Each element is cut from a larger piece of medium-density fiberboard; layers of plaster and paint are sanded, molded, and finally pieced back together to form the final composition.
In this work, Benning references her video War Credits (2007–13), which features credit sequences from various war films, overlaid with bands of white text. In Benning’s practice, abstraction and physical labor are highly coded with broader historical and political conditions. Here, the handmade quality of the wall reliefs relate to the human scale and reference the singular physicality of the individual in the face of the overwhelming anxieties that war produces, particularly the safety and rights of at-risk citizens in the “war on terror”—a war without transparency and with no end in sight.
Benning was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005, and in 1993, at the age of nineteen, she became the youngest person ever to be invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial. She has exhibited internationally since 1990 at institutions including the New Museum, New York; Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland; Dia: Chelsea, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the 7th Gwangju Biennial, South Korea; and the Whitney Biennial, New York (1993 and 2000). Benning’s work is held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among others.