The Stedelijk showcases a prevalent synopsis of the trailblazing Canadian artist group General Idea.
In the recapitulation that places Art at one end and Design at the other, there have been a few fortuitous undertakings to steer from the appropriation of a new style by combining elements of different forms to appeal to a wider audience. One would have to go back to the pinnacle of success of Constructivism, Dada, Futurism, De Stijl and the Bauhaus to find artists comfortable in producing paintings, sculptures, design and filmmaking.
A group that is worthy of appreciation for a huge body of crossover work that includes exhibitions at major galleries worldwide and many public art projects is General Idea; a collective of three Canadian artists, Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson, who were active from 1967 to 1994. They embraced a conceptual and visionary approach to making art.
As the forerunners of early conceptual and media-based art, their collaboration became a model for artist-initiated activities and continues to be a well known influence on subsequent generations of artists. Initially working in Toronto, from 1968 through 1993 they divided their time between Toronto and New York before returning to Toronto for the last few months of their time together. General Idea produced a wide range of material over the 25 years that the collective was together. Their collaboration ended with the deaths from AIDS-related illnesses of both Partz and Zontal in 1994.
Amsterdam was always of paramount importance for the group, and the Stedelijk Museum was where they had their first institutional show in 1979. The retrospective was also shown at the National Gallery of Canada last year and will continue to Berlin’s Gropius Bau. It has been laid out with works arranged thematically, rather than chronologically.
In Shut the Fuck Up, General Idea underline the media’s insistence that only gossip and spectacle make art and artists interesting to the public. A hard-hitting and amusing analysis of the artist’s relationship with mass media.
Shut the Fuck Up demonstrates General Idea’s analysis of media formats and their proficiency of video as medium.
AIDS marked a significant shift in General Idea’s practice, leading to other works focused on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The painting mimics American Pop art painter Robert Indiana’s 1966 LOVE. Attracted by the fluidity of this image, General Idea made a visually similar painting but replaced the word ‘LOVE’ with ‘AIDS’.
General Idea made a series Infected based on the art of the Dutch modern master Piet Mondrian. In the original Mondrian, there is yellow in one corner. General Idea changed that little yellow bit in the corner to green, a colour that Mondrian never used. General Idea introduced green to Mondrian’s iconic colour scheme of red, yellow, white, and blue to represent the virus, which is infecting the work. It has a societal citation along with an artistic one.
Today, their work continues to resonate with audiences, critics, and scholars, and especially with students and younger artists. General Idea works are exhibited internationally and held in many significant private and public collections.
General Idea at the Stedelijk Museum through Sun 16th Jul 2023
General Idea’s most extensive exhibition of more than 200 works together (large installations, publications, videos, drawings, paintings, sculptures and archival material), is organized by the National Gallery of Canada in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum and curated by Adam Welch, National Gallery of Canada, and Beatrix Ruf for the Stedelijk and Gropius Bau, Berlin.