Neal Baer Collection

General Idea

Playing Doctor


Chromogenic print (Ektachrome)
Edition 4 of 12 plus 3 APs

76.2 x 53.3 cm (28. 7/8 x 20 7/8 in) unframed
89 x 66.5 x 3.5 cm (35 1/8 x 26 x 1 1/8 in) framed

Image courtesy of the Estate of General Idea, Esther Schipper, Berlin, and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; Photo © Andrea Rossetti

General Idea was founded in Toronto in 1969 by AA Bronson (b. 1946 Michael Tims, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), Felix Partz (born Ronald Gabe, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1945 – 1994) and Jorge Zontal (born Slobodan Saia-Levy, Parma, Italy, 1944 – 1994). The artists assumed a collective identity under which they produced self-referential objects, videos, publications, installations and performances satirically mimicking certain received ideas in contemporary culture. “In doing so, they forged a complicated theory about how visual forms operate in society, best summarized in their motto ‘image is virus.’”

We entered history, seized hold of images, emptied them of meaning, and reduced them to shells. Then we filled the shells with glamour, the creamy puff-pastry innocence of vacuity, the awful silence of shark fins cutting through oily water.

General Idea quoted in Kunsthalle Zurich, “General Idea: Found Formats,” 11 November 2006 – 7 January 2007

In this heavily retouched self-portrait, the three artists dress up as doctors and parodically examine each other’s heartbeats. It is one of a series of group self-portraits entitled “Three Men Series.” The colored capsules refer to General Idea’s series “PLA©EBO”, created in the early 1990s when the group focused on projects related to the AIDS crisis. Upon its exhibition in 1992, critic Lois Nesbitt read the self-portrait to “impl[y] that all doctors can do in the face of an incomprehensible epidemic is play around until they get it right.”

[T]he example of General Idea suggests that one must engage the normal and confront its realm of appearances, but that doing so might not mean simply speaking truth to power or holding up the abnormal as the real in the face of a constructed reality. Rather, one must play with normalcy itself—even suggesting ‘new normals.’ We ‘abandoned our hippie backgrounds of heterosexual idealism, abandoned any shred of belief that we could change the world by activism, by demonstration, by any of the methods we had tried in the 1960s,’ Bronson wrote in 1997. Instead of ‘straight’ activism and demonstration, General Idea did something queer.

Alex Kitnick, “The Conformists: The Art of General Idea,” Artforum, March 2017

Esther Schipper

General Idea: Tiempo Partido / Broken Time, Museo Jumex, Mexico City, 2016-17, MALBA, Buenos Aires (2017)

Haute Culture: General Idea. Une rétrospective 1969-1994, Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2011)

Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2009, TMMP, Tokyo (2009)
Kulturstiftung Phoenix Art/Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg (2008)

General Idea Editions: 1967-1995 (touring 2003-07)

Identities: Canadian Portraits, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg (2004)

See also
General Idea in the collection of the MoMA

General Idea in the collection of Tate Modern

General Idea in the collection of the Walker Art Center

The Estate of General Idea at Esther Schipper

The Estate of General Idea at Mitchell-Innes & Nash

General Idea, Test Tube [clip] (1979)

Lois Nesbitt, “General Idea at Stux Gallery, New York,” Artforum, September 1992

Carlo McCormick, “General Idea at 49th Parallel, New York,” Artforum, December 1986