New York

General Idea

49th Parallel

For well over a decade now, General Idea, the collaborative identity of three Canadian artists—A. A. Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Saia—has systematically and sarcastically invented a persuasive epic of self-referential iconic rhetoric. But the group’s satirical mimicking of the language and structure of the institutions of the culture has itself become a standard of taste. The mock grandeur of General Idea’s hoax scheme is so exact in its generic formalism that it provides its own kitsch idols to false deities as it goes about its iconoclastic ridicule of the system. The art world has come to take its jokes seriously.

General Idea’s elaborate construction of an iconography of models for mass conformity is based on a deconstruction of the values and methods behind inherited social truths. The wit in this heretical mutation of corporate faith is so dry that the group’s artifacts and ritualized performances, presented in various media, can easily pass as counterfeit currency in our economy of vested interests. The exaggerated patterns of similarity in their obsessively conceived and executed parallel system of received values poke fun at the givens in our canon of academic humanism. But this institutionalized symbolism uses the neutralizing effect of the simulacrum to connect its own arbitrary intricacies to the manipulative logic of our ongoing programs of cultural indoctrination. It is funny to see what these three men immortalize as the mystically distilled essence of civilization. However, the work’s more persuasive ridicule comes from the subtle narrative distance it provides viewers, allowing them to examine the web of politics, religion, and wealth embodied in their own culture and history.

General Idea’s evolving neoconservative fairytale of “Miss General Idea” is an anarchistic parable of the pedantry of power, while the metaphorical architecture of “the Miss General Idea Pavillion” and its accompanying “Armoury” provide an ambiguous theoretical model of the forces that determine the consumption and enshrinement of art. General Idea’s self-invented spectacle of public and private icons is essentially narcissistic; its reflexivity, though, provides a mirror for our own reflection. This narrow-minded vision points up ideological and nationalistic territories as empty symbols. “The Armoury of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion,” shown here, another version of another chapter in their evolving and growing epic, goes beyond merely placing General Idea’s now familiar array of symbols (geometric poodles, overturned wine goblets) on coats of arms; the shields themselves allude both to entrenched authority and to the patina of class that surmounts it. The powerful dictate both history and culture, but General Idea’s perverted history devalues these romanticized relics of feudal nobility, and turns them into design. It is only after seeing the full parade of General Idea’s seductive, farcical, pseudomedieval regalia that the real target of this “show” becomes clear: our myths of art’s lofty status. These fake relics displayed as art are about power and control, and its value as a commodity in the art market.

Carlo McCormick