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"Haute Culture : General Idea, a Retrospective, 1969~1994" Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris
2011/04/05 Update   Writer  / Sylvie Lin
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"We wanted to be famous, glamourous, and rich. That is to say, we wanted to be artists and we knew that if we were famous and glamourous we could say we were artists and we would be...We did and we are. We are famous glamourous artists."
——"General Idea"【1

In 1969, Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson created the group "General Idea" in Toronto. As one of the major pioneers in conceptual art, the group regarded artistic practice and identiy of artist as a kind of performance. Taking their subjects largely from cultural industry as well as intellectual realm(from Roland Barthes to Marshall McLuhan) and by means of parody, they incorporated art into the frames of consumption and of mass communication, thus subverted both the myth of artist and that of art making2】while also examined contemporary phenomenon driven by the capitalism and the myth constructed by the media. 

    General Idea, Portrait of General Idea in
    front of Test Pattern: T.V Dinner Plates from
    the Miss General Idea Pavillion
, 1988.
    Installation view, SPIRAL, Tokyo, 1988.
    Courtesy the Estate of General Idea / Tohru
As they said, "GENERAL IDEA is basically this : a framing device within which we inhabit the role of the artist as we see the living legend. We can be expected to do what is expected within these bounds. We are aware of the limitations of this […] and act accordingly behind the lines. Projecting our roles gives us some perspective to start with so we can see clear to project our frames frame by frame."【3

General Idea, XXX (bleu) (detail), 1984. 3 acrylic on canvases, 3 poodles, 350 x 940 x 150 cm. Installation view, XXX bleu and Mondo Cane Kama Sutra. Series of Painted Images from the Dog house of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, Centre d'art contemporain, Geneva, 1984. Courtesy the Estate of General Idea 

Taking performance as its base, the work of "General Idea" represents the fusion of fiction and reality by means of forms appropriated from the domains of communication the of commerce. During their twenty-five-year existence (Partz and Zontal died of AIDS in 1994), they made products and opened shops, published magazines, shot TV shows and made posters where they often did role-play themselves. "Haute Culture : General Idea, a Retrospective, 1969~1994"【4】recently held in the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris represents several aspects of their work.

In the retrospective, a large part is around the Miss General Idea Beauty Pageant organized by "General Idea". One of the awarding ceremonies took place in the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1971 in the form of a performance. The performance was arranged according to the ostentation and extravagance of actual beauty pageants ; even the audience "acted" perfectly in front of the camera. The retrospective shows documents,

documentaries The retrospective shows documents, documentaries and photos related to the activities, as well as documents and TV shows related to the architecture project, "Miss General Idea Pavillion". The Pavillion project was planned to be realised in 1984 yet only documents of its ruins remain, which incorporates itself into the entire myth fabricated by "General Idea" itself around itself.

The retrospective also showsFILE magazines published by "General Idea" during 1972 and 1989. On the one hand, the magazine served as a way of exchanging with other artists ; on the other hand, the three members of "General Idea" played out all kinds of roles in various contexts and were photographed for the magazine. The publication of the magazine also touches on the issue of copyright, one of the preoccupations of "General Idea". The title of the magazine plagiarize the font of LIFE magazine's title and was sued by the latter. As Bronson put it, "Corporate culture used copyright-protected 

  General Idea, Glamour, 1975. Spread from
  FILE Megazine, vol. 3, no. 1., autumn 1975,
  “Glamour Issue,” pp. 20-21. Courtesy the
  Estate of General Idea 
logos[...] as a virus to be injected into the mainstream of our society, infecting the population, and creating a sympathetic cash flow."【5

General Idea, AIDS, 1987. Acrylic on canvas, 183 x 183 cm. Courtesy the Estate of General Idea / BFAS Blondeau Fine Art Services, Genève. Photo Zindman / Fremont

Regarding the plagiarism, "General Idea" also plagiarized Robert Indiana's LOVE(1964) by following the original font yet replacing the term LOVE by that AIDS. Based on this, they developped a series of works from 1987 to 1994. Just like the infectious effect of media, AIDS of "General Idea" infiltrated  daily life in the forms of wallpaper, electronic billboards, stamps, etc. AIDS series actually follows the strategy of the group to parasite on existing media space and thereby spread out. Bronson stated, "we were simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the mechanisms of today's cultural economy. We injected ourselves into the mainstream of this infectious culture, and live, as parasites, off our monstrous host."【6

In retrospective, from the sixties to today, the media (from TV to Internet) becomes all the more omnipresent in our daily life. Our society, along with the art world, has turned even more spectacular. In this perspective; "Haute Culture" exhibition reflects the prophetic insight of "General Idea" : throught diverse forms, they explored the intanglement of art-making, cultural industry as well as the media. Like the analysis of Fredric Jameson about culture in the contemporary world, "the increasingly consumed throughout daily life itself, in shopping, in professional activities, in the various often televisual forms of leisure, in productions for the market, and in the consumption of those market products, indeed in the most secret folds and corners of the quotidian."7


General Idea website


1. From "Glamour", FILE magazine, 3.1, automn 1975.
2. The members also used pseudonyms for themselves. The anoymity of the group also runs counter the myth of  individuality of a single artist.
3. General Idea's Reconstructing Futures exhibition brochure, 1978 (touring exhibition in Carmen Lamanna Gallery, etc.).
4. From 2011.2.11 to 4.30. Official website.  The French title "Haute Culture" is a pun:its literal meaning in English is "high culture";it also refers to the French term "Haute Couture".
5. AA Bronson, "Copyright, Cash and Crowd Control : Art and Economy in the Work of General Idea", in General Idea Editions 1967-1995, ed. Barbara Fischer, p. 26.
6. Ibid.
7. Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn : Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998, p. 111.