General Idea (founded in Toronto in 1969, active until 1994) were pioneers of conceptual and media art, whose work attained international prominence in the art world and the streets in equal measure. The groundbreaking collective practice of AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal—the latter two deceased in 1994—spanned more than 25 years, addressing aspects of mass media, consumer culture, queer identity, the art economy, the creative process, glamour as a creative tool, architecture and archaeology, and the AIDS crisis. They remain among the most influential artists to have emerged from North America.
From their earliest performances and actions, their use of consumer and advertising media in the public realm, to their gallery and museum work, General Idea’s complex intermingling of reality and fiction demonstrated a transgressive and often parodic take on art and society. Treating the image as a virus that has infiltrated every aspect of the real world, General Idea set out to colonize it, modify its content, and come up with an alternative version of reality as exemplified by their iconic File Megazine (1972–1989) and controversial yet landmark “AIDS” project (1987–1994).
Paintings, installations, sculptures, photographs, videos, magazines, and TV programs: General Idea’s is an authentically multimedia oeuvre, that has lost nothing of its freshness,and can now be seen as anticipating certain aspects of the radical transformation of the art scene over the last few decades.
General Idea’s work has been exhibited worldwide in numerous institutions, including the Kassel Documenta in 1982 and major retrospectives at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Museo Jumex, Mexico City; MALBA, Buenos Aires; and MAMCO, Geneva. Initiated by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, their largest retrospective exhibition to date is touring the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Gropius Bau, Berlin, in 2023–2024.
Image credit: © Archives General Idea, Berlin