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Haute Culture: General Idea at the AGO

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Today, I went to the media preview of Haute Culture, the retrospective of famed Canadian artist collective General Idea, which opens this Friday with a free party at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

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AIDS (Gold) 1987, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas. Katharina Faerber Collection, Geneva Image: VoCA

I had a few minutes to chat with AA Bronson, who reminded me of his solo exhibition at Esther Schipper Gallery in Berlin, in which he will be showing large self portraits with diamonds. Not the Warhol-style diamond dust, mind you, but actual diamonds. Though based in New York, AA currently shows only with commercial galleries in Europe, now that his New York gallery John Connelly Presents has closed. And in Canada, it seems our market is just not able to support him. He's never been particularly well embraced in Canada, he says. Hopefully the retrospective will go some way toward changing that. It was supported by some of the city's well-known collectors.

Incidentally, some in the Toronto art world will find it interesting that the retrospective was a project begun by former AGO curator of contemporary art David Moos, when he was still at the AGO.

The GI retrospective comes from La Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, where it was apparently a big success. Curator Frederic Bonnet explained that it is arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, which in the case of GI, is helpful. The themes are, according to Bonnet: glamour as tool of creation; mass cultures; architecture/archaeology; sexuality/ambiguity and the AIDS project.

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FILE Magazine, 1972-1989, one set of magazines - 26 issues. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Muse?e d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC, 2011.

The group famously used the mass media as a vehicle for art, putting art on television and printing a magazine FILE. They employed an impressive range of materials, from work in plaster, taxidermy, gold leaf, fluorescent tube... there is even straw on the floor of one fantastic installation, making the gallery smell like a barn. In it, the poodles (the artists) are contemplating the Canis Major constellation in the Milky Way. It's quite funny.

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P is for Poodle (The Milky Way from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion) 1982-83, mixed media installation, Collection of the Carmen Lamanna Estate, Toronto
Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Muse?e d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC, 2011.

The image of the artists as three poodles is interesting, inserted so often as it is into a broader art history. My favorite piece (not only because I'm a big fan of IKB) was the send up of Yves Klein's Anthropometry works, which they recreated with taxidermy poodles.

They then painted three large X's onto the canvas, which they say (in a nearby video piece) function as "kisses, targets, signatures..."

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XXX (bleu) (installation view) 1984, 3 acrylic on canvases, 3 poodles. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Muse?e d'art moderne de la Ville de
Paris / ARC, 2011.

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XXX (bleu) (installation view) 1984, 3 acrylic on canvases, 3 poodles. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Muse?e d'art moderne de la Ville de
Paris / ARC, 2011.

Here are some more photos of my favorite pieces:

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AIDS 1987, silkscreen wallpaper
AIDS 1988 Gift of Robert and Lynn Simpson, 1997. Photo by Carlo Catenazzi. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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Untitled (Vantage) (detail) 1986, acrylic and pasta on canvas. Collection of Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Mudam), Luxembourg. Image: VoCA

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Untitled (Vantage) 1986 and Untitled (Marlborough) 1985-1986, acrylic and pasta on canvas. Collection of Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Mudam), Luxembourg. Image: VoCA

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Infe©ted Mondrian n°6 1994, Collection of Franco and Barbara Noero
AIDS, 1987, silkscreen wallpaper. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Muse?e d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC, 2011.

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Pavillion Construction Hoarding 1975, diazotype on acetate over plywood, edition 2 of 5 (not all produced). Purchase, with assistance from Wintario, 1976 Image: VoCA

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Pavillion Construction Hoarding 1975 (back). Image: VoCA

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The Firewall, 1985. Aniline dye with plaster cast tiles with acrylic on plaster on plywood. Collection of Carmen Lamanna, Toronto Photo: VoCA

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Pavillion Poodle Fragments, 1983-1984, installation: various elements, aniline dye on plaster. Collection of General Idea, Toronto/New York. Image: VoCA

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Mondo Cane Kama Sutra 1984. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Muse?e d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC, 2011.

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Magi© Bullet, 1992 (on ceiling) and Magi© Carpet (on floor). Installation Helium-filled printed Mylar balloons. Collection of General Idea, Toronto/New York. Photo: VoCA

While General Idea is of course legendary, I'm quite interested in the work that AA has been doing in his solo career, particularly since his partners Felix Partz and Jorge Zonthal passed away in 1994. He has reinvented himself as AA Bronson: Healer, and curated the School for Young Shamans in 2008 at John Connelly Presents, which I briefly blogged about here. Presently, at New York's Union Theological Seminary he is director of The Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice, whose mission it is to explore the interrelationship between the three.

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Me with AA at the preview. Image: VoCA/Chris Jones

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