GENERAL IDEA "FIN DE SIECLE", 1990
General Idea was founded in 1967 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.
Rich in allegory and irony, General Idea's "Fin de Siècle" presents many of the best conceptual and aesthetic characteristics of their output.
Who isn't charmed when first encountering this trio of adorable seals? As we begin to unpack its allusions and the motivations behind the work we discover a generous offering of references to visual culture and society.
"Fin de Siècle" originated as a large installation at the Koury Wingate gallery in New York City in March 1990. Composed of over 300 sheets of styrofoam, the unsustainable man-made product, was arranged through the gallery to give the illusion of a dramatic arctic landscape. The centerpiece of the work was three stuffed toy seals. The overall presentation seemed to mimic a display at a traditional natural history museum.
Yet instead of taxidermy, we have toys. And true to GI's fascination with emblems, avatars, and mascots, these three endearing animals are representing the artist themselves.
The immediate, somewhat fatalist, interpretation is that GI was poetically and playfully confronting the AIDS crisis. As gay men, they were similarly stranded in a hostile environment in the face of the disease. Less than four years later, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal would die from AIDS.
The title itself, which translates as "end of the century", can simultaneously mean the end of an era. Historically it has been used to refer to the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. However, in this context, it can also relate to pre-millennium anxiety.
Anecdotally we have heard that the inspiration behind "Fin de Siècle" was more fantastic and extravagant. Zontal had envisioned transporting an actual iceberg into an urban setting, as a sort of sculptural/natural wonder. As this was too ambitious to realize, the concept evolved and GI employed accessible materials to offer an indoor iceberg with plush stand-ins.
It is also worth mentioning that this work was created at a moment when there was international scrutiny and criticism against Canada for its ongoing tolerance of seal hunting. Today, it is difficult not to consider how the Canadian government created legislation that led to the demise of a traditional Inuit industry, an essential element of their culture and survival in the extreme North.
While this text does not have the capacity to explore all the fascinating interpretations and allusions in the work, we will leave you with a final one. Some European scholars have found parallels to Caspar David Friedrich's paintings "The Sea of Ice" and "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog"...Do you see it?
Regardless of which of the many narratives that surround "Fin de Siècle" it is without saying it is one of the most thought-provoking works in General Idea's oeuvre.
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Signed and numbered by the artist verso
From an edition of 12
31.1"H 21.9"W (work)
36"H 27"W (framed)
Framed with museum glass
Very good condition
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