From June 3 until November 20, 2022, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) will present General Idea’s most comprehensive retrospective exhibition.
Formed as part of the Toronto counterculture of the 1960s, General Idea was a radical artist-led group founded in Toronto by AA Bronson (b. 1946), Felix Partz (1945-1994) and Jorge Zontal (1944-1994 ). Together they invented a revolutionary and provocative multidisciplinary practice that challenged social and artistic norms and altered the development of post-war art over 25 years – from the formation of the group in 1969 to the death in 1994 of Partz. and Zontal from AIDS. diseases.
This major retrospective of General Idea will bring together more than 200 works
This major General Idea retrospective will bring together more than 200 works, including installations, paintings, drawings, videos, sculptures, publications and archival documents, to explore the crucial role General Idea played in the development of art and activism in Canada, the United States and Europe. The exhibit will also trace General Idea’s influence on future generations of creators, informing new ways to reinvent and change our world through art.
Known for their anti-establishment outlook and early involvement in punk, queer theory and AIDS activism, General Idea criticized consumer culture and social inequality in their work, examining mass media, the economics of art, queer identity and the AIDS crisis. Organized chronologically, the exhibition will examine General Idea’s holistic approach to artmaking, showing that they were artists, performers, architects, publishers, traders, anthropologists and more.
General Idea frequently borrows from mass media and advertising, exploiting humor and parody to probe the production, circulation and consumption of images and culture. Much of this satirical work foreshadowed current concerns about social media and the distribution of images. They were known for their prolific production of low-cost multiples, and in the 1970s used fake beauty pageants to satirize the glamor and consumerism of the contemporary art world. For example, the 1971 Miss General Idea pageant (1971) involved actual artist submissions and culminated in an elaborate awards ceremony. From 1975 to 1984, General Idea produced a series of works centered on their gesamtkunstwerk, The Miss General Idea Pavilion, a fictional building intended to house the ultimate Miss General Idea Pageant. Conceived as a decentralized museum, its fragments located in institutions around the world, the Flag would comment on the structure of the art world, deconstructing the myths surrounding museums, archives and artifacts.
In the 1970s, General Idea founded two critical institutions that attest to their important place in the history of independent publishing and self-managed culture. FILE Megazine (1972-1989) is a periodical that appropriates the format of LIFE magazine and whose first subscribers are Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. Art Metropolis was a publishing and exhibition platform that has been selling and distributing artist books, audio, video and multiples in Toronto since 1974.
From 1987 to 1994, General Idea’s work responded to the AIDS crisis. Appropriate Robert Indiana’s famous TO LIKE series, they made their logo by replacing the word “AIDS”. Initially a painting, they later produced animation for the Spectacolor Board in New York’s Times Square and created poster campaigns that spanned cities from San Francisco to Berlin. A sculptural 1989 iteration of this IMAGE VIRUS is exhibited on the Esplanade of the National Gallery of Canada, and its graffiti surface invites the public to mark its surface. Also, from this period, the exhibition will include the important installation Pharma©opia (1992 in which three large-scale pills float through the air for visitors. This work was originally designed for Las Ramblas in Barcelona, described by Bronson as a ‘warning’ as the AIDS crisis was yet to impact on Spain.
The exhibition is curated by Adam Welch, PhD, Associate Curator of Canadian Art, NGC, with the close collaboration of AA Bronson.
The exhibit will be accompanied by a major new publication that will be the definitive resource on General Idea. The 756-page magazine will explore their performances and actions, their work on city streets, and their work in museums and galleries. Edited by Adam Welch and designed by Garrick Gott, it includes a foreword by AA Bronson, a conversation between Bronson and curator Beatrix Ruf, and contributions from leading voices on contemporary art and its intersections with literature, the trade and activism.
General Idea has had over 100 solo exhibitions and countless group exhibitions internationally and produced a wide range of public art projects. The group received the Bell Canada Award in Video Art in 2001, the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2002 and the Skowhegan Medal in Multimedia in 2006.
Top: Installation shot @ Maureen Paley Photo: © Artlyst 2020
GENERAL IDEA FROM JUNE 3 TO NOVEMBER 20, 2022 National Gallery of Canada
This exhibition will visit the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and another European location in 2023.
Visit www.gallery.ca @NatGalleryCan