General Idea. Magi© Bullet. 1992. Installation of custom-shaped Mylar balloons. Gift of Mark Krayenhoff. © 2022 General Idea

“Being a trio freed us from the tyranny of individual genius.”

General Idea

General Idea is the collective project of artists Jorge Zontal, AA Bronson, and Felix Partz. Between 1969 and 1994, the trio transformed their life together into a “living work of art,” which they presented in performances, objects, videos, and publications. In doing so, they forged a complicated theory about how visual forms operate in society, best summarized in their motto “image is virus.”

The group came together in Toronto in the late 1960s, galvanized by the decade’s psychedelic counterculture and experimental art practices, and its politics of protest and communal living. General Idea took aim at the myths of consumer affluence, patriarchal power, and technological progress that shaped life in North America after World War II—myths they argued were sustained by cultural forms and images that spread through society like a virus. The group’s strategy, drawing from Susan Sontag’s idea of camp and from the queer science fiction of William S. Burroughs, was to appropriate these cultural forms and images, exposing their power and using their viral nature to spread alternative, more subversive, messages.

General Idea’s first major experiment in appropriation was their 1970–71 “Miss General Idea Pageant,” in which they emulated a beauty pageant to mock the competition of the art world. Over the coming years, General Idea appropriated the mythic forms of postwar militarism, fashion, and architecture. They circulated the resulting artworks through a network of correspondence artists they called “The Subliminal,” and in the pages of their own journal FILE. The group eventually assembled these various projects into a vast mythological apparatus, which they explained would one day be housed in the 1984 Miss General Idea Pageant Pavilion. Though never built, this planned museum-like structure was the subject of exhibitions, artist books, and a set of 289 explanatory “showcards.”

In the 1980s, General Idea targeted the booming art market with their increasingly explicit queer politics. Having relocated to New York, in 1987 General Idea commenced their final project, “IMAGEVIRUS,” in which they reconfigured Robert Indiana’s LOVE to read “AIDS.” In the face of the horrifying epidemic, which in 1994 would claim the lives of Zontal and Partz, General Idea once again returned to the notion of the image as virus, to point to alternative ways of living and dying.

Nicholas Croggon, independent scholar

Note: opening quote is from General Idea, “Three Heads Are Better,” FILE magazine, 4, no. 1 (summer 1978): 14.

Wikipedia entry
General Idea was a collective of three Canadian artists, Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson, who were active from 1967 to 1994. As pioneers of early conceptual and media-based art, their collaboration became a model for artist-initiated activities and continues to be a prominent influence on subsequent generations of artists.Initially working in Toronto, from 1968 through 1993 they divided their time between Toronto and New York before returning to Toronto for the last few months of their time together.General Idea's work inhabited and subverted forms of popular and media culture, including boutiques, television talk shows, trade fair pavilions, mass media and beauty pageants. The beauty pageant, The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant, allowed for both male and female artist to send in pictures of them wearing the taffeta dress provided. Their work was often presented in unconventional media forms such as postcards, prints, posters, wallpaper, balloons, crests and pins. Self-mythology was a continuous strategy that informed their work. They created a fictional system that self-referenced and self-legitimized, claiming a space for their local art scene in Canada. Their intent was to reach a greater audience and so their work moved from art galleries and museums to newsstands. This ensured that different types of people who spent time in different places could have a psychological or social reaction in a place comfortable to them. General Idea initially portrayed themselves as an ambiguous group, but soon realized it was causing confusion with the public. This led to a series of self portrayal or marketing images including "Fin de Siècle".From 1987 through 1994 their work addressed the AIDS crisis, with work that included some 75 temporary public art projects. Their major installation, One Year of AZT/One Day of AZT, was featured as a project at the Museum of Modern Art and now resides in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. In 2006 the three giant inflatable pills from their 1991 work PLA©EBO were displayed during Toronto's Nuit blanche. After publishing FILE Megazine for two years and amassing a large collection of artists books and multiples, General Idea founded Art Metropole in 1974, a non-profit space dedicated to contemporary art in multiple format: artists books, multiples, video, audio and electronic media.Both Partz and Zontal died of AIDS in 1994. Bronson continues to work and exhibit as an independent artist, and was the director of Printed Matter, Inc in New York between 2006 and 2011. The General Idea archive now resides at the Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada.In June 2022, the National Gallery of Canada launched a major retrospective show of the group's work.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


111 works online



  • Signals: How Video Transformed the World Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, 188 pages
  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
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