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General Idea Life & Work by Sarah E.K. Smith

General Idea had a long and steady career of prestigious international exhibitions during their active period (1969–1994) and following the group’s demise. Today, their work continues to resonate with audiences, critics, and scholars, and especially with students and younger artists. General Idea works are exhibited internationally and held in many significant private and public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Museum of the University of Toronto; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Vancouver Art Gallery; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston; Musée d’art contemporain, Montreal; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent; Art Institute, Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Winnipeg Art Gallery; and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.


The National Gallery of Canada

General Idea left behind a wealth of materials of interest to art enthusiasts and scholars alike. The most significant collection is held in the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives (NGCLA), which currently administers the General Idea fonds. This cache contains text and audiovisuals related to the artists.

          The NGCLA also holds the Art Metropole Collection, donated by Jay A. Smith, Toronto, 1999, as well as the General Idea fonds. Dating from 1969 to 1994, the General Idea archive, on long-term loan, includes invitations, postcards, photographs, clippings, periodicals, and the files and working drawings from the group’s various projects. The Art Metropole Collection also contains materials by the group’s contemporaries and collaborators.

          In addition, the NGCLA holds the related Art Metropole fonds, as well as original copies of FILE Megazine (1972–89). Further archival files at the NGCLA, including the Fern Bayer fonds, hold related materials pertaining to the group’s activities.


Installation view of General Idea, One Year of AZT, 1991, and Pharma©opia, 1992, taken during the touring retrospective General Idea’s Fin de siècle, Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany, 1992–93

Key Exhibitions

General Idea has presented their work in numerous solo and group exhibitions dating from 1969 to the present day. For a complete list of all of their solo and group exhibitions, and a complete list of General Idea editions, publications, and multiples please see AA Bronson’s website. This site also outlines the group’s video exhibitions and broadcasts and the group’s performances. The following exhibition list uses Bronson’s website as an authoritative reference for the spelling of all exhibition titles and venues.



Selected Solo Exhibitions During General Idea’s Active Years (1969–1994)

A detailed list of General Idea’s exhibitions to date can be found on AA Bronson’s website.

1969

The Belly Store (collaboration with John Neon), 78 Gerrard Street West, Toronto.

Waste Age, 78 Gerrard Street West, Toronto.

1970

Betty’s (collaboration with Ken Coupland and Ron Terrill), 78 Gerrard Street West, Toronto.

1971

The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant Entries, A Space, Toronto.

The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant Awards Ceremony, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

1972

Light On, Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

Evidence of Body Binding, Galerie B, Montreal.

1973

Luxon V.B., Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

Manipulating the Self, Galerie B, Montreal.

1975

Going thru the Notions, Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

Going thru the Motions, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

1976

Search for the Spirit, Galerie Gaëtan, Geneva.

1978

Menage à Trois, Lucio Amelio, Naples. 

Reconstructing Futures, Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto; Canada House, London; Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris.

1979

Colour Bar Lounge, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Test Tube, de Appel, Amsterdam.

1980
–81

General Idea’s Carmen Lamanna Gallery – The Boutique from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

1980

The Canadian Pavilion at the 40th Venice Biennale.

1981

General Idea, 49th Parallel, New York.

1982

Documenta 7, Kassel, Germany.

Ziggurat Paintings (1968–69), Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

1983

P is for Poodle: The Milky Way from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, Music Gallery, Toronto; Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

General Idea's Mondo Cane Kama Sutra, Albert Baronian Gallery, Brussels.

1984

General Idea’s 1984, Vancouver Art Gallery.

Baby Makes 3, Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto.

General Idea, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (now Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst), Ghent.

1984
–85

The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, Kunsthalle Basel. Travelled to Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Musée d'art contemporain, Montreal.

1986
–87

The Armoury of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. Travelled to 49th Parallel, New York; University Art Gallery, California State University, Long Beach; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo.

1987

AIDS, Koury Wingate Gallery, New York.

AIDS (poster project), New York.

1988

Test Pattern: T.V. Dinner Plates from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, SPIRAL, Wacoal Art Center, Tokyo.

AIDS (window project), New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.

AIDS (poster project), Berlin.

AIDS (poster project), Toronto.

AIDS (billboard project), Billboard Cafe, San Francisco.

The Public and Private Domains of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, Artspace, San Francisco.

AIDS (poster project), San Francisco.

1989

General Idea’s ¥en Boutique, Galerie Esther Schipper, Cologne.

General Idea 1968–1988, Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne.

AIDS (project for the New York Subway System), New York.

AIDS (project for Spectacolor Board), Times Square, New York.

Nightschool: The Academy of the Miss General Idea Pavillion, Mai 36 Galerie, Lucerne.

1990

AIDS (project for Amsterdam trams), Amsterdam.

Fin de siècle, Koury Wingate Gallery, New York.

1991

Green (Permanent) PLA©EBO, Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne.

Red (Cadmium) PLA©EBO, S.L. Simpson Gallery, Toronto.

AIDS (project for Seattle buses), Seattle.

AIDS (Reinhardt), Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University, New York. 

AIDS (Nauman), Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.

1992

Green (Permanent) PLA©EBO, Galerie Richard Foncke, Ghent.

Magi© Bullet, Stux Gallery, New York.

Blue (Cobalt) PLA©EBO, Galerie Montenay, Paris.

1992
–93

General Idea’s Fin de siècle, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart. Travelled to Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona; Kunstverein in Hamburg; The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto; Wexner Center for the Visual Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

1993

The Armoury of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion and Related Works, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

General Idea: Multiples, S.L. Simpson Gallery, Toronto.

1994

One Year of AZT / One Day of AZT, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.



Selected Writings by General Idea


Bronson, AA. “The Humiliation of the Bureaucrat: Artist-Run Centres as Museums by Artists,” in Museums by Artists, edited by AA Bronson and Peggy Gale, 29-37. Toronto: Art Metropole, 1983.


FILE Megazine, vols. 1–6 (1972–85), and FILE Megazine nos. 25–29 (1986–89), including “Pablum for the Pablum Eaters,” in vol. 2, no. 1&2 (May 1973); “Borderline Cases,” in vol. 2, no. 3 (September 1973); and “Glamour,” in vol. 3, no. 1 (fall 1975).


General Idea. XXX Voto (to the Spirit of Miss General Idea). Montreal/Toronto: Galerie René Blouin/S.L. Simpson Gallery, 1995.



Articles about General Idea

For a detailed list of writings on General Idea, see the Selected Bibliography provided on AA Bronson’s website.


Allen, Gwen. “The Magazine as Mirror: FILE, 1972–1989.” Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

Bayer, Fern. “Uncovering the Roots of General Idea: A Documentation and Description of Early Projects, 1968–1975.” In The Search for the Spirit: General Idea 1968–1975. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1997.

Celant, Germano. “General Idea i Canadada: Un Gruppo Canadese.” Domus (Milan: October 1974), 52.

Cronin, J. Keri, and Kirsty Robertson. “General Idea and AIDS.” In Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada, edited by J. Keri Cronin and Kirsty Robertson, 95–99. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011.


Decter, Joshua. “Infect the Public Domain with an Imagevirus: General Idea’s AIDS Project.” Afterall 15 (spring/summer 2007): 96–105.


Monk, Philip. “Some Like it Haute: The General Idea Retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario.” C Magazine 112 (winter 2011–12): 10–15.


–––––. “Crisis (and Coping) in the Work of General Idea.” Filip 16 (spring 2012): 107–112.


Moser, Gabrielle. “Exhibition-Making with Ghosts: The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion.” Filip 11 (spring 2004).


Solomon, Virginia. “What is Love?: Queer Subcultures and the Political Present.” e-flux (2013), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/what-is-love-queer-subcultures-and-the-political-present.


Welch, Adam. “Time for Another Rewrite: The AGO’s General Idea: Haute Culture, A Retrospective 1969–1994.” The Toronto Review of Books (November 15, 2011), http://www.torontoreviewofbooks.com/2011/11/general-idea-haute-culture.



Key Interviews

Decter, Joshua, and General Idea. Journal of Contemporary Art, 4.1 (1991): 49–64, http://www.jca-online.com/genidea.html.


Enright, Robert, and AA Bronson. “Particularizing Some General Ideas: An Interview with AA Bronson.” Border Crossings 23.1 (February 2004): 28–44.


General Idea fonds. National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives. Manuscripts Series. Manuscripts for Publications and Artworks, Louise Dompierre interview, New York, July 26, 1991.


Sharp, Willoughby. “The Gold-Diggers of ’84: An Interview with General Idea, Toronto.” Avalanche (winter/spring 1973): 14–21.



Audio and Video about General Idea

Bronson, AA. “AA Bronson on Art in the 1960s.” The University of Chicago, February 10, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXoWTBVVeHc.
This lecture by AA Bronson delves into the artists’ early years and includes a discussion of numerous early projects by General Idea.


. “AA Bronson on General Idea’s Cornucopia.” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 2012. http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/539#ixzz3abmuaycH.
In this short video, AA Bronson discusses the General Idea work Cornucopia: Fragments from the Room of the Unknown Function in the Villa Dei Misteri of The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, part of General Idea’s larger project The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion.


Production photograph from the filming of Test Tube, 1979, with Marina Abramović drinking from a test tube in the Colour Bar Lounge, photograph by General Idea

. “AA Bronson Reflects on Sexual Themes in the Work of General Idea.” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 2012. http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/538.
In this short video, AA Bronson speaks about General Idea as a collective and how the group worked to address queer lives and sexuality.


. “AA Bronson: Life and Work.” Hart House, University of Toronto, October 28, 2014. https://vimeo.com/111459938.


Krishtalka, Sholem, Virginia Solomon, and Luis Jacob. “The General Idea behind General Idea: A Panel Discussion.” Art Gallery of Ontario, November 16, 2011. http://www.ago.net/the-general-idea-behind-general-idea.
This podcast features Sholem Krishtalka, Virginia Solomon, and Luis Jacob discussing General Idea as part of a panel held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in conjunction with the retrospective Haute Culture: General Idea—A Retrospective, 1969–1994.


Monk, Philip. “Marshall McLuhan, General Idea, and Me!” McCready Lecture on Canadian Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, November 9, 2011. http://graphics.artmatters.ca/mp3/McCready-Lecture-2011.mp3?_sp=c63c27c7e17beacc.1432147382199.



Videos by General Idea

General Idea videos are rented and sold through the New York City–based non-profit Electronic Arts Intermix, which also offers free screenings by appointment. Several institutions hold in their collections videos by General Idea, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York (which also has a copy of General Idea’s only film, God is My Gigolo); Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Kunsthaus Zürich; and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The Banff Centre for the Arts library also lends General Idea videos.



Further Reading

Bordowitz, Gregg. General Idea: Imagevirus. London: Afterall, 2010.


General Idea 1968–1984, exhibition catalogue, texts by Jean-Christophe Ammann, Tim Guest, General Idea, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, 1984. 


General Idea Editions 1967–1995, edited by Barbara Fischer. Toronto: Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto at Mississauga, 2003.


General Idea: FILE Megazine, edited by Beatrix Ruf. JRP/Ringier, Zurich, 2008.


General Idea’s Fin de siècle, exhibition catalogue (texts by Joshua Decter, Friedmann Malsch, Louise Dompierre, Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen, Jean-Christophe Ammann), Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, 1992.


General Idea’s PHARMA©OPIA, exhibition catalogue (texts by Brigitte Rambaud, Jean-Christophe Ammann, General Idea), Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona, 1992. 


General Idea: A Retrospective 1969–1994, edited by Frédéric Bonnet. Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2011.


Monk, Philip. “A Space in Toronto: a History,” Künstler aus Kanada, Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein, 1983, pp. 119–20; German translation, pp. 116–117. Access via: http://www.philipmonk.com/a-space-a-history-1983.


Cover of Glamour is Theft: A User’s Guide to General Idea by Philip Monk

. Glamour Is Theft: A User’s Guide to General Idea. Toronto: Art Gallery of York University, 2012.


Scott, Kitty, and Jonathan Shaughnessy. Art Metropole The Top 100. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2006.


Trescher, Stephan. General Idea. Die Kanadishe Künstlergruppe. Nürnberg: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 1996. German-language edition only.


Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada, 1965–1980, edited by Grant Arnold and Karen Henry. Edmonton, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver: Art Gallery of Alberta/Halifax INK/Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Hart House, University of Toronto/Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University/Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012.


The Search for the Spirit: General Idea 1968–1975, edited by Fern Bayer and Christina Richie. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1997.


See all five of Philip Monk’s 2014 lectures, part of The Copy Cat Academy project accessible online at http://www.copycatacademytoronto.com/philip-monk-lectures/#new-page-1.