Some thoughts on General Idea

I wrote a post for BlogTO on the Haute Culture: General Idea retrospective exhibition, now on at the AGO. It’s a huge show that doesn’t exactly lend itself to writing a bite-sized review, so I had some difficulty getting the point across: It’s really good. For a whole bunch of different reasons. Even though at first glance it might seem like an insular exhibition—so concerned with a bygone time period and a community that I’m not part of—there is truly something for everyone in this exhibition. It spans media, tone, and technique, while maintaining a humourous and playful, yet incisive, subversion. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:

Though it’s surprising to some that audiences had to wait so long for a retrospective–General Idea disbanded nearly 20 years ago, in 1994 when Partz and Zontal died, a few months apart, from AIDS-related illnesses–the exhibition benefits from the distance in time and in culture. Bonnet, as a non-Canadian curator, is able to bring an outside perspective to the works. As for the separation in time, it lends the exhibition an air of discovery.

Bonnet’s introductory text states the General Idea’s oeuvre “anticipated many of today’s art trends,” and I couldn’t agree more. From those goofy, ironic posed portraits, to multiples that blur the line between art and commerce, to the staging of elaborate performances and rituals like the Miss General Idea Pageant, the works feel extremely fresh. It’s hard to tell if that’s because they were ahead of their time, or because their influence is so strongly present in the work of today’s hip, young, university-educated artists, or because such a comprehensive gathering of the works is unprecedented. Probably all three–and the effects are stunning. You can read the rest on BlogTO.

For those who have also seen MoCCA’s summer exhibition, This Is Paradise, Haute Culture makes an interesting companion. There’s some historical overlap, and some shared Toronto connection, although I hoped for more from This Is Paradise, and it paled in comparison to Haute Culture.. though perhaps that is an unfair comparison. Calling it a ” a microcosmic historical exercise,” my colleague Bryne McLaughlin wrote a terrific review, that summed up exactly what I thought of this exhibition, for Canadian Art.

Still, This Is Paradise (regardless of its shortcomings), and Haute Culture, certainly both have been stirring the city’s artistic imagination. Part of Haute Culture‘s allure is its ability to conjure Toronto’s art scene at its beginnings. It’s certainly worth seeing, preferably multiple times. Haute Culture: General Idea continues until Jan 1, 2012.