Spotlight: A Sprawling Exhibition Traces the Influence of Experimental Artist Collective General Idea

It is the second exhibition dedicated to the artist trio's work presented by Toronto-based gallery Caviar20.

General Idea, Down the Drink (1987). Courtesy of Caviar20, Toronto.

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What You Need to Know: On view through December 2, 2023, Toronto-based gallery Caviar20 is presenting a wide-ranging look at the work of one of Canada’s most important artist collectives: General Idea, in “25 Years 25 Works.” A pioneer of late 20th-century experimental art, the artist trio known as General Idea was active from the late 1960s through 1994, and produced a body of work that focused less on the specific medium or its execution and more on its conceptual underpinnings.

The present exhibition highlights the thematic and material diversity of the groups practice, including everything from screenprints to textiles, and engaging with prevalent issues around consumerism, patriarchy, queer identity, and the AIDS epidemic. Employing elements of tongue-in-cheek humor and irony to address important issues, General Idea crafted a singular identity that predates ideas of personal branding by decades.

About the Artist: General Idea formed in 1969 as a collective artistic endeavor between the three Tornto-based artists AA Bronson, Jorge Zontal, and Felix Parts, wherein they sought to transform their everyday lives into a “living work of art.” Producing performances, artworks, videos, and publications, the motto of the group was “image is virus,” a comment on how they saw visual art operating within contemporary society. Influenced by the writings of Susan Sontag—and specifically her explorations of “camp” aesthetics—and William S. Burroughs, as well as the rise of psychedelic counterculture and experimental art, General Idea took aim at and subverted themes and motifs from popular culture as a form of critique. One of their earliest and most significant projects saw them emulate a beauty pageant as a means of ridiculing the pomp and circumstance of the art world. The group eventually relocated to New York in 1987, and increasingly engaged with queer politics. A particularly striking example of one of their most recognizable works was a timely take on Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” motif, reconfigured to read “AIDS” at the height of the epidemic, which ultimately Zontal and Partz would both succumb to.

According to the Gallery: “Our exhibition, titled ‘General Idea: 25 Years 25 Works,’ coincided with the final stop of the group’s traveling retrospective, currently hosted at the Groupius Bau in Berlin. While some recent General Idea exhibitions have focused on large-scale paintings, their artistic practice was inherently multidisciplinary, with a strong emphasis on editioned works. Our exhibition pays tribute to this aspect of their practice while also showcasing paintings and a collection of rare pieces that are entirely new to the secondary market.

General Idea holds a significant place in Canada’s cultural history, yet they have not been the focus of any commercial exhibitions for decades. We are proud to offer a space that pays homage to their remarkable legacy.”

See featured works from the exhibition below.

General Idea, Aids (1987–1988). Courtesy of Caviar20, Toronto.

General Idea, Coeur Volant (1995). Courtesy of Caviar20, Toronto.

General Idea, Monet Cane (1981). Courtesy of Caviar20, Toronto.

General Idea, A Poodle Creates a Portrait of General Idea as Three Pee Holes in the Snow (1981). Courtesy of Caviar20, Toronto.

General Idea, The Hand of the Spirit of Miss General Idea from “Fear Management” (1987). Courtesy of Caviar20, Toronto.

25 Years 25 Works” is on view at Caviar20, Toronto, through December 2, 2023.

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