General Idea

General Idea

Gropius Bau

September 19, 2023
General Idea
September 22, 2023–January 14, 2024
Gropius Bau
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
10963 Berlin
Hours: Wednesday–Monday 11am–7pm,
Saturday–Sunday 10am–7pm

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The Gropius Bau presents the most comprehensive retrospective in Germany of General Idea, the artist group who blurred the lines between art, media and creative activism. Developed in close conversation with founding member AA Bronson, the exhibition traces General Idea’s artistic legacy, from their 1969 formation in Toronto up to its 1994 dissolution following the death of members Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal of AIDS-related illnesses. The retrospective encompasses nearly 200 works including sculptures and installations, paintings, videos, publications, as well as archival material, signature wallpapers and iconic logos. The newly produced public sculpture AIDS (1989/2023), installed outside the Gropius Bau, is conceived as a participatory work. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the sculpture as they like, leaving their notes, drawings, graffitis or comments. Structured mainly chronologically, the exhibition displays General Idea’s trademark “serious humour,” charting their explorations of the interrelations between gender, sexuality, mass media, social inequality, protest, consumer culture, art world economies and the public sphere. The Gropius Bau retrospective is the latest in their history of exhibiting in Germany and specifically in Berlin, where AA Bronson lives today.

“In my youth, Berlin was the legendary city of artistic freedom, The Threepenny Opera and bohemian penury. General Idea’s first international exhibition was at the DAAD Gallery in 1973, curated by Robert Filliou. But it was not until 1983, when the three of us drove at gunpoint through East Germany for our poodle performance at the Akademie der Künste, that we discovered the true magic of Berlin, that walled city of outcasts and inverts.”
— AA Bronson, artist and founding member of General Idea

The earliest projects shown in the exhibition trace the group’s experiments with conceptual, performance and mail art and take the form of pamphlets, instructions and photographs. In the 1980s, General Idea culled from the visual language of branding and corporate identity to wittily explore the connections between art, media and commerce. Between 1987 and 1994, General Idea made a turn to socio-political activism in order to bring visibility to the AIDS emergency. For one of their most visible projects called IMAGEVIRUS, they appropriated Robert Indiana’s Pop Art icon LOVE by replacing the word “LOVE” with “AIDS.” General Idea was challenging the campaign of silence and repression that emerged in the US and other places amid the tragic deaths and public silence that surrounded the AIDS crisis. This was done before Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal learned of their HIV-positive statuses in 1990. The installation Fin de siècle (1990) is intended as an ironised self-portrait of three artists adrift in critical circumstances. It takes up the entirety of the Gropius Bau’s atrium.

The exhibition gives special attention to their provocative mass-media interventions. The series Infe©ted Mondrian (1994) are facsimiles of catalogue illustrations of the works of artist Piet Mondrian with the colour yellow replaced with green, a colour Mondrian disliked. Like many of General Idea’s appropriations, the works in their Infe©ted series are at once an homage and an inversion of canonical images. The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive public and discourse programme conceived by the Gropius Bau that connects historical with contemporary discourses and further expands upon the themes brought forward by General Idea, with a specific focus on the German and European context through an intersectional lens. Besides tours by the curators and AA Bronson, the programme will follow the theme of “Infiltrations” and take shape as sonic performances, artist lectures, interactive events and archive workshops for the public.

Curated by Adam Welch, National Gallery of Canada and Beatrix Ruf, with the collaboration of Zippora Elders, for the Gropius Bau.

The public and discourse programme is curated by Zippora Elders, Head of Curatorial Department and Outreach.

Organised by the National Gallery of Canada in collaboration with the Gropius Bau.

The admission fee is 6/9 EUR.

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Gropius Bau
September 19, 2023

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