Ever since 2011, when we had the immense pleasure and great honour of hosting AA Bronson at the DAI (in those days still based in Arnhem), we have been eagerly looking forward to a large show of the groundbreaking Canadian artist group General Idea in the Netherlands. The Stedelijk Museum is now bringing the most complete overview to date. In the 70’s and 80’s General Idea were renowned for their satirical approach to the deconstruction of the media and the art world. General Idea started out as a larger group, and then became known as a trio, consisting of Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson widely from 1969 on. General Idea came to an end in 1994, with the untimely deaths of Partz and Zontal of AIDS.
Exhibition — 1 Apr until 16 Jul 2023
Thanks to its special relationship with General Idea, the Stedelijk was honored with the donation of the General Idea Collection in 2018. Now the museum can present the largest-ever survey of their oeuvre, comprised of large sculptures and installations, paintings, videos and publications, archival material—and their signature wallpapers.
Rein Wolfs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: “With the long history we have with General Idea, this exhibition fits perfectly with the DNA of the Stedelijk. As one of the global knowledge centers of their work, it was high time to conduct an extensive retrospective. I am very grateful to my predecessor Beatrix Ruf for the extremely careful and precisely curated exhibition and I thank AA Bronson for his enormous generosity, involvement and his critical thinking. With over 300 works, this traveling exhibition’s stop in the Netherlands is a second homecoming for General Idea. We are looking forward to introducing new generations to the oeuvre of General Idea, which has still lost none of its strength.”
General Idea critiqued popular media and the art world through witty and visually arresting artworks. During the span of their 25-year career, General Idea took on mass media, consumer culture, queer identity, the art economy, social inequality, and the AIDS epidemic with their unique brand of “serious humor”: a subversive and absurdist approach to language and imagery, always with an earnest intent. General Idea can be seen as pioneers of “creative activism”; their practice of inserting their artwork directly into the public sphere, as they did with their AIDS posters, laid the groundwork for conceptually-driven activist engagement for a new generation of artists. Their ideas about collective authorship, denying the sanctity of the unique, original work of art provided a template for artists after them to unite and collaborate as a group.
Pop Art to the next level
General Idea, like their Pop Art contemporaries, fully embraced mass media, and their involvement with it was unprecedented for artists. They designed provocative merchandise for sale at their own portable shop. Their videos took on the format of TV talk shows, daytime soap operas and the evening news. Their well-known FILE magazine was a daring parody of LIFE Magazine. They even covered an Amsterdam tram with their AIDS logo. General Idea always encouraged the public to interact with their work playfully, through mail art, in museums, and on the street. General Idea’s strategies of infiltrating found formats, obscuring authorship, original and copy, and using art to reach a mass audience is central to the contemporary practice of many artists and can be found widely in digital and social media.
In 1979, the Stedelijk was the first museum in the world to host an exhibition of their work and began collecting it. Because of this history, General Idea came to consider Amsterdam as their “second home” and gifted the Stedelijk a large part of General Idea’s archive in 2018, making the museum a major knowledge center for their work, in addition to MoMA in New York and the National Gallery of Canada. After Amsterdam, the exhibition will travel to Gropius Bau in Berlin, where it will open on September 22, 2023.
The exhibition is accompanied by the equally monumental publication General Idea. Editor: Adam Welch, contributions of David Balzer, AA Bronson, Diedrich Diederichsen, Dominic Johnson, Theodore Kerr, Alex Kitnick, Sholem Krishtalka, Élisabeth Lebovici, Philip Monk, Diana Nemiroff, and Beatrix Ruf. JRP|Editions, 756 pages, ISBN 978-3-03764-585-7.
The exhibition General Idea is organized by the National Gallery of Canada in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Curated by Adam Welch, National Gallery of Canada, and Beatrix Ruf for the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.