GENERAL IDEA “ABCs” METAL LEAF ON RICE PAPER, 1984
In 1967, General Idea was founded in Toronto by AA Bronson (b. 1946), Felix Partz (1945-1994), and Jorge Zontal (1944-1994). Over the course of 25 years, they made a significant contribution to postmodern and conceptual art in Canada and beyond.
The group was both prolific and multi-disciplinary long before it became de rigueur. They worked with photography, sculpture, painting, mail art, video, installation, multiples, and performance.
With their subversive approach and interest in parody and appropriation, General Idea addressed a broad range of social (and art-world) issues such as the cult of the artist, mass media, queer identity, and consumerism.
Until the mid-1980s (when they introduced their iconic AIDS pieces), critics overlooked elements in General Idea's work that dealt with queer identity or sexuality. Despite the lack of acknowledgment, the trio had always peppered their work with gay codes, allusions, and general mischief.
Several of their pieces portrayed General Idea in campy, cartoonish, or absurd renditions of group self-portraits. In the 1980s their playful group self-portraits became an increasingly important part of their oeuvre.
"ABCs" is an extraordinary example of their self-representation (and outrageous evolution). Here the trio is depicted as a group of babies arranged into what seems to be a menage à trois.
There is something both angelic and perverse about this trio. On one level, the artwork infantilizes General Idea, presenting them as innocent and pure despite their overt sexuality. Simultaneously, it raises questions about the future generation, perhaps hinting at a shift in attitudes and belief systems.
It is also worth highlighting the tactile materials of this piece, as during the 1980s General Idea's output became increasingly sleek.
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Metal leaf on rice paper
36.5"H 49.5"W (work)
44.75"H 57.25"W (framed)
Provenance: S.L. Simpson Gallery, Toronto; Acquired by the present Private Collection, Toronto, 1994.
Literature: Sarah E.K. Smith, “General Idea: Life & Work” [online publication],
Art Canada Institute, Toronto 2016, page 52
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