Haute Culture : General Idea

AA Bronson, one of the three founders of General Idea.

Last night I attended the Member’s Preview for the new exhibit Haute Culture: General Idea at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Living on the fourth and fifth floor, the Haute Culture exhibit offers a profound retrospective of an art group who had an immensely prolific career known as General Idea. Founded in 1969 in Toronto, General Idea is vital to the construction of the diverse and vibrant art scene in Toronto.

The AGO described General Idea to have a “complex multimedia approach, which was a full-time mix of reality and fiction, and of the present and future.”  This depiction, of course, is very accurate; the exhibit consists of instillations, paintings, prints, photography, magazines, and video.  On my way down to the fourth floor of the exhibit, it had dawned on me that the work of General Idea is a visual double entendre–symbols and images are renewed with new meanings, meanings that feel extremely natural and true by the time you complete viewing the retrospective.  I felt like I taught a new language and gained fluency, this understanding built further appreciation for and connection to General Idea.

General Idea’s painting and photography is quite stylized, they give their subjects room to breathe and their viewers room for thought and internalization.  There were two rooms that left an imprint in my mind. The first is the room that featured the  Mondo Cane Kama Sutra, 1984, 10 panels that depict three stylized poodles (a symbol that is very important in General Idea’s work) engaging in a variety of sexual activities.  The size of the panels, the neon coloring of the poodles, and the depictions in each panel are very striking–pulling at your gaze and fighting for your attention.  The second room featured several giant blue and white (Azt) pills, at first the room seemed painted all white, but when you looked closer the AIDS, 1984 logo was faintly patterned on the walls.  This literally took me aback, up to this point the AIDS logo has been displayed prominently in its original (blue, green, red) colours and other colourful variations–AIDS was in your face and inescapable.  But in this room, AIDS crept up on you–you could’ve missed it if you weren’t paying close attention.  This visual contrast is a great example of the importance of not only the artwork, its ideas, and execution, but its curatorship.

The exhibits only downfall is that it offers the visitor an immense amount of (carefully curated) material to take-in (which is hardly a downfall at all); there isn’t a painting, a print, a magazine, a photograph that you (the visitor) can pass by nonchalantly–this exhibit requires time and your undivided attention.

It was extremely hard not to notice and feel the strong bond between the three founders of General Idea, AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal–the intimacy in their partnership translates heavily in their work and presents the viewer with a sense of honesty.

Haute Culture: General Idea is a multi-dimensional retrospective that is not to be missed.

July 30th, 2011 – January 1, 2012

Opening Party
Friday, July 29th, 2011
6pm to 9pm
Open to the Public

About alinakulesh

At a very young age Alina made the commitment to Art, Film, and Media. Currently, Alina is working for a media production company that tells stories on behalf of brands. Prior to entering into the world of media production and advertising, Alina explored portrait and life drawing. Uber-curious, Alina finds beauty in the ugly, intriguing, and ridiculous.


  1. Today I saw the exhibit for the 3rd time, I once saw it with my Son in Law and family, not a good idea, children had to go hither and yon, second time took some friends, again I need to see an exhibit on my own, sometimes others nattering about this or that distract me, so decided today to go on my own, what a wonderful body of work,and I realize that I have only scratched the surface, considering I lived during those years, I was simply not aware of much of this, except for the “Aids” piece, those Zuggurat paintings are something else, in any case I am planning on going back a few more times
    B.T.W. the website is my partner’s Bob Kell and his work on the Winnipeg General Strike 1919. of which he has one piece hanging in the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, in the Labour Movement material.


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