Now through November 11th, 2018, Maureen Paley in London is presenting AA Bronson + General Idea, an exhibition marking fifty years since AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal met in 1968 and formed the collective General Idea. The Canadian collective is known for producing over 100 solo exhibitions, as well as countless group shows and temporary public art projects. For the years of 1969-1994 they lived and worked together, creating a “living artwork of their being together” and working through various surfaces or ‘host’ media for their ideas and engagement with punk, queer theory, ad AIDS activism.
General Idea is perhaps best known for their publication FILE (1972-1989), which appropriated the design of LIFE magazine and presented contributions from some of the most radical artists and collectives of the time. FILE published work by Art & Language, William Burroughs, and the Talking Heads. This adoption of the mass-market format of LIFE magazine initiated a sustained interest in using found formats for the transmission of their ideas.
In this vein, General Idea’s work addressing the AIDS crisis from 1987 to 1994 took on a similar found format approach. Working in New York City during this time, they produced perhaps their best-known work to date: Imagevirus. In this piece, General Idea appropriated Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue and configured a response in which the letters of the word AIDS are spelled out in the same visual arrangement and color composition. Again, they used viral transmission to investigate and circulate the term as both word and image, emphasizing the corrosive stigmatism attached to the AIDS virus through the incessant and unrelenting transmission of pop art and culture. This design was reproduced in the form of paintings, sculptures, postage stamps, posters and magazine covers. Its resonance and significance continue to be felt in the contemporary moment, where the appropriation of mass-market or popular format to transmit political ideas takes on a particularly urgent tone.
This exhibition features paintings and wallpaper from the Imagevirus series. The result is the experience of viewing the relentless reproduction of a design that is subtly altered in its multiplication. In this way, the show reveals how General Idea’s piece stages a visual insistence on an issue that was otherwise denied or erased. In bright colors and dizzying patterns, this exhibition envelops the viewer in a both a parody of mass-marketing visual culture and a profound rebuke of the political and ethical blindness this culture can embody.
— A. Corrigan
Exhibition Page [Maureen Paley]