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.