General Idea

Galerie Buchholz | Cologne, Elisenstraße 4-6

“Wellcome” to the world of drugs: AIDS is the theme. The most widely prescribed antiviral medication, AZT, manufactured and distributed by the Burroughs-Wellcome Company, is equated here with a placebo. There are no cures for AIDS; there are, however, pills that extend the lives and the disease of HIV-positive people. Any prospect for radical change in this medical situation is dim; the disease remains fatal. Research, we are told, is dragging, while society is now more, now less interested in the topic. Although AIDS is a cipher for both the acute and the constant threat to human existence, the general public (and government agencies) must steadily be appealed to. The world is full of havoc, misery, and disaster. AIDS is yet one more tragedy—and the earth keeps spinning.

Green (Permanent) Pla(c)ebo is the title of General Idea’s installation here. Three gigantic pills or capsules are placed on the floor in their sculptural fullness—while 81 smaller half capsules, entitled ABC, 1991, are attached to the wall in groups of three. The basic color of each capsule is green; it is also combined with red and blue. The associations are obvious. The meaning of the number three in color and arrangement is linked to the three members of this artists’ group; the capsules themselves represent in enlarged form the best-known AIDS treatment. Macabre and perhaps less evident is the unpleasant association of the three giant capsules with the size of coffins.

The installation is an effective form of art as commentary. Its goal is to be highly critical, although the Pop approach supplies a safe and comfortable playground. The “United Colors of Benetton” sends its best regards, just as the entire genre of image advertising seems to be put on display. “Placebo” means “I will please” but in this context, it means “displiceo,” “I will displease.” Inversion and irony are the operative strategies here. Together, however, they are as limited in their effectiveness as AZT. There are contraindications and side effects galore: particularly a playful, albeit hollow, rematerialization of the art object a passive, estheticizing stance with respect to the problem of art and AIDS. The equation of this artistic passivity and the response to the AIDS crisis, is what makes this work particular. And yet one leaves this exhibition feeling good. General Idea’s installation—and this is remarkable raises our consciousness with respect to the constellation of ideas revolving around the juncture of art and AIDS to new levels of understanding, even if the sole purpose is to mobilize art and AIDS activism not individually, but collectively.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.