Sadie Benning. Installation view of the exhibition Surrounds: 11 Installations, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 21, 2019–January 5, 2020. Digital Image © 2022 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Denis Doorly

“I want to be free to try things that don’t make sense yet.”

Sadie Benning

Sadie Benning’s career began at 15, when they received a Fisher-Price PXL 2000 toy video camera from their father for Christmas. Benning remembers, “I thought, ‘This is a piece of shit. It’s black-and-white. It’s for kids.’ He’d told me I was getting this surprise. I was expecting a camcorder.”

Reminiscent of journal entries and filmed mostly in their bedroom, the videos Benning created with the PXL 2000 are a window into their teenage world in Milwaukee. The artist acknowledges, “I got started partly because I needed different images and I never wanted to wait for someone to do them for me.” Suddenly, Benning became a pioneer of a new and rapidly popularizing genre of film: Pixelvision, as the videos were coined for their flat, pixelated quality. In Jollies (1990), by describing past sexual and romantic experiences, Benning recounts the path that led them to realize, “I was as queer as can be.” Despite the attention that these movies received, the works were developed at a time, as Benning now reflects, before they fully understood their transgender, nonbinary identity.

Benning eventually began to work in other mediums, embracing the immediacy of tactile materials as an alternative to the long process of filming and editing video. Benning explains that a “painting might not literally have the ability to talk like a film...yet it still has something to say.” They incorporate sculptural elements into their paintings; often, wood is cut into pieces, coated with colored resin, sanded, then fit back together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Benning attributes this experimental process to a lack of formal training as a painter, explaining, “The history of painting is heavy with arguments, and as much as I am interested in knowing about them conceptually, I don't want to feel oppressed in the studio. I want to be free to try things that don’t make sense yet. I put materials together that maybe shouldn’t be and don’t follow hierarchies.”

Benning takes this same approach to Shared Eye (2016); with the addition of found photographs, toys, and shelves, the work has moved even further from traditional painting. Though the work is inspired by things that bother the artist—like the current political climate and how rampant sexism, racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, and capitalism affect the unconscious—Benning also wants audiences to bring their own interpretation to it, noting that there are “infinite ways of looking at the piece.”

Hannah Traore, Twelve-Month Intern, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2019

Wikipedia entry
Sadie T. Benning (born April 11, 1973) is an American artist, who has worked primarily in video, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and sound. Benning creates experimental films and explores a variety of themes including surveillance, gender, ambiguity, transgression, play, intimacy, and identity. They became a known artist as a teenager, with their short films made with a PixelVision camera that have been described as "video diaries". Benning was a co-founder and a former member of the American electronic rock band Le Tigre, from 1998 until 2001.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Video artist who explores the issues of self-definition and alienation, often in an autobiographical way. She was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial.
Artist, Video Artist
Sadie Benning
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


11 works online



If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].