Get the Idea

Nicolas Trembley on General Idea at the Musée d’Art Moderne

Left: Artist AA Bronson with French minister of culture Frédéric Mitterand. Right: Curator Frédéric Bonnet. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

“I WAS STRUCK by the minister of culture, Frédéric Mitterrand. His speech was so heartfelt, quirky, and knowledgeable, with an undercurrent of humor, and he kept giving me sharp little looks all the way through, as if to say ‘You know whom I’m talking about!’ ” This was what AA Bronson told me right after receiving the distinguished French medal of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres last Thursday at the Canadian embassy in Paris.

It’s still unclear whom Mitterand was talking about (perhaps Miss General Idea?), but the event was sufficiently moving and drew 150 friends and admirers who were carried in on buses chartered especially for the occasion. These took them to the embassy from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where guests had attended the opening of “Haute Culture,” the first retrospective exhibition of General Idea, that legendary art collective of which Bronson was a founding member.

“For once Paris isn’t the last city to organize an exhibition of this stature, so now we really have something to talk about!” said Christine Van Assche of the Centre Pompidou. “At the moment, the show is only scheduled to travel to Toronto,” said David Moos, curator of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. “But we are open to suggestions…”

Left: Artist Pierre Hugyhe and curator Stéphanie Moisdon. Right: Artist Michael Snow.

Because the minister had to reschedule the medal ceremony at the last minute, the exhibition’s curators, Frédéric Bonnet and Odile Burluraux, missed the actual pronouncement. But it was hard for them to be disappointed, given that the opening was such an enormous success. “We were afraid that there wouldn’t be a lot of people compared to the record number of visitors we just had for the Basquiat exhibition,” said Burluraux. “But that’s not how it turned out.”

The Canadian ambassador, His Excellency Marc Lortie, announced the presence of another Canadian artist, Michael Snow, but he forgot to mention that Canuck painter Paul P. was also there. “I’ve been living in Paris for five years and I’ve never come here before,” P. said, unruffled. Not that this matters for much. Pierre Huyghe, who was also there and who considers General Idea (along with Ant Farm) his “forefathers,” told us that he had never been invited to the French embassy in New York, where he moved before winning the Smithsonian prize late last year.

The ambassador’s speech was of course very complimentary, as ambassadors’ speeches tend to be, and Bronson thanked everyone, reminding them that he had shown a copy of FILE, that “alternative to the alternative press,” to the museum thirty-four years ago. Returning now for a retrospective made him extremely happy, he explained, even though his GI comrades Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal are unfortunately no longer with us.

Left: Dealer Victor Gisler and art adviser Patricia Marshall. Right: AA Bronson.

All of General Idea’s dealers were present: Esther Schipper, Victor Gisler (Mai 36), and Frédéric Giroux, as well as longtime friends such as Lonti Ebers and Canadian socialites such as Fern Bayer. The food was absolutely fabulous, with plenty of caviar, oysters, salmon, and crabs to go around. Soigné art adviser Patricia Marshall, who has works by General Idea in her collection, told me, “The food is everything you’re looking for. Why complicate your life? Canada is where you should go on vacation.”

“The Canadian ambassador’s residence is so un-Canadian, kind of glorious and imperial, and unbelievable with our funny mixture of art types—curators, artists, journalists, and a generous helping of cute boys. None of us really belongs,” said the elegant Bronson, wearing a huge, shamanic amber necklace. (He had been spotted with his boyfriend, the hirsute architect Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur, in WWD a few weeks before, occupying the front row at many shows, including Givenchy.) When I asked him where he got the necklace, he told me it was from a shop in Paris called . . . Manet? Monet? Money? I’m not sure I understood. We didn’t stay too late and no afterparty seemed to have been organized. Anyway, Bronson had to edit several articles at the new office in Paris for JRP-Ringier, which is working on the group’s catalogue raisonné. “At last, I felt like there was someone at the government level who understood what General Idea was all about,” he told me as he left. Yes, at last . . . Now could you imagine the US government getting, say, David Wojnarowicz in the same way? That “at last” has yet to come.

Translated from the French by Jane Brodie.

Left: Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Right: Artist Paul P.

Left: Architect Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur. Right: Dealer Esther Schipper.