Three artists who conquered the world finally conquer home
Paul [please pardon the familiarity but your writing causes me to think that I know you personally], I am one of 49 but I am also the 1 who read the whole column. And enjoyed it.
I was unaware of General Idea until your column. I say that with no apology as the art world has never been my major preoccupation. Well, except....
I was during my working life an accountant and I had many, many artists as clients and I would from time to time speak at the local art college to students about "the business side of being an artist." My first question of a potential new artist client was to ask them to describe their medium and, I can say quite honestly, I was and remain surprised by the many, many media and interpretations of those media.
Me: "What is your medium?"
Artist: "Plywood." [complete deadpan voice}
Me: "Excuse me?"
Artist: "Plywood." [same deadpan voice]
Me: "Oh, okay."
It turns out that that fellow was quite serious - if not fully descriptive - and his work was held in numerous collections and he was a teacher and administrator at the art college.]
So, the art world was not my major preoccupation but I became intrigued by the many artistic ideas; some of those ideas I understood and they even appealed to me whereas other ideas left me cold. I broadened my horizons - well, a little; I am, after all an accountant (albeit retired) - and I have to say that I am critical of art from time to time, as is any philistine, but I am also highly interested in it.
So, all of this, Mr. Wells, is by way of saying that I enjoyed your column immensely and this is part of why I purchased a subscription as soon as I heard about your new venture. Keep it up, along with your "more regular" columnar work.
Around 1980 I got a job behind the bar at The Fiesta, a very trendy diner turned restaurant on Yonge Street across from the main branch of the Toronto Public Library. The owners mounted several pieces by General Idea on its walls, including their infamous "Nazi Milk" photo (the young man in the pic was also a line cook at The Fiesta). The owners were also, along with GI, co-publishers of FILE magazine, a satire on LIFE magazine and the locus of all things 1984 Miss General Idea Contest. Next door was their main gallery in Toronto (I believe it was the Goddard Gallery) which is where I first encountered their Poodle phase.
Not surprisingly, General Idea were often at the restaurant. AA and Felix would grab a booth with the restaurant's owners but Jorge Zontal always came to the bar and almost always ordered a double espresso with a twist of lemon peel. He was courteous but fairly quiet. I remember talking to him about his life in Venezuela; most times he would have to talk to hangers on. I enjoyed his company.
Two of my closest friends died of AIDS the same year Jorge did. It was a shitty year.
Oh, and one quibble: the members of General Idea were openly gay and their art reflected that, but to call the collective "queer" - while a fashionable label these days - would be totally inaccurate.
Thanks Paul. Great profile of these visionary artists.
Great piece, Paul. At UWO, the contemporary art prof Bob Belton went out of his way to make sure we all knew General Idea, adding, "Not that it will matter until Europe and New York bless them first." Ha. Exactly.
A great article.
I look forward to seeing the retrospective. Makes me wonder if Canadians knew what we had in Schitt's Creek before it hit big in the US?
Thanks for this, Paul. Embarrassed that I didn’t know about General Movement. BTW I love your substack content. Cheers
I claim the title of "the one in fifty of your readers..." Was already excited, and more so now I've read your terrific piece. Charlotte.
Good piece Paul. I covered them in the early days. Check out the Ottawa Courthouse and their piece imbedded in its outer walls...talk soon...sj
Thanks for writing on the arts, Paul. I’m discovering artists I didn’t know of before.
Great piece Paul. I’m enjoying to discover your writing and recommendations on the arts. Wish I could see this show but I live in Australia. I never heard of General Idea before your piece and I feel that I should have. It’s good to see National Gallery of Canada being ambitious in their program.
The poodle talk recalls my favourite Dostoevsky line: 'As loyal as 7000 poodles.'
As someone who is currently working as an journeyman in the arts (I don't consider the term either politically incorrect or an insult) I enjoyed the content of this piece, as part of my art school experience was in fact, art history ,both European and Canadian . I did not know about General Movement but did know how difficult life in arts of Canadians was/ is compared to other countries . I will be curious to see what up and coming artists create with respect to the politics now both visually and with film . I do hope it's not about poodles or seals and that it won't take 75 years for people to see what has happened without being censored .
I am one of the 49, but I did read it to the end. Thank you for broadening my horizons.
Thank you, Paul. It's been years since I've heard anything about this group. Glad to see recognition at last.