Review: General Idea At The AGO.

October 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

General Idea (GI), a trio made up of AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal, were integrally involved in the history of Toronto’s art scene. “Haute Culture: General Idea, a Retrospective 1969-1994” is the first ever comprehensive retrospective of this Canadian group. The vast programme, though by no means hosting every one of the prolific group’s works, provides a well-rounded perspective of the artists’ careers. The exhibit brings visitors through the stages of the trio’s career, displaying their evolving ideas and concerns.

The retrospective doesn’t display GI’s works chronologically but organizes them into five segments according to these concerns, allowing the viewer to better immerse themselves in the principles of the group. Although the segmentation provides a better understanding of GI, it can lead to a confusion of chronology in GI’s works. Since the first and last part are both on the first floor of the exhibit, unless one read the introductory statement to the show thoroughly, it may lead to further confusion of what order things were to be approached in.

The first segment, found at the entrance of the fourth floor, addresses the artist, glamour and the creative process. A variety of strategies are used here to tackle these concerns including, but not limited to, installation, pageantry, movies, and magazines. The most notable part of this section, the relics of the Miss General Idea Pageant (1971), was birthed from GI’s well-known principle ‘form follows fiction’. The second part of the exhibit can be found alongside the first and deals with media consumption and mass culture. The trio used every medium available including movies, magazines, mail art, publicity stunts, fake ads, and fake press conferences to challenge societies power structures and modes of creation.

The third portion of the exhibit skips up to the fifth floor where GI’s works concerning architecture and archeology are found. Though this portion of the exhibit features layout plans and designs by the group its primary focus is documenting the artifacts (wall paintings and fragments, painted shields and installations) of the factious construction of the Miss General Idea Pavilion (1984). The fourth section of the show occupies the second half of the fifth floor and explores GI’s intentions of subverting the social systems of sexuality.

The viewer is brought in a loop back down to the fourth floor to find the final chapter of the exhibit: the iconic AIDS project (1987-1994). The project consumed the group’s efforts for the last stage of their careers with two of their members falling victim to the disease. The project centered on the AIDS crisis and challenged social prejudices against the disease.

-Sophia Farmer

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