A World of Their Own

General Idea Made Art from Culture's Forgotten Shell

After Partz and Zontal were diagnosed in '89 and '90, General Idea began working with pharmacology images—rooms filled with pills. And they created Fin de Siècle, an installation representing the artists as three baby white seals in a sea of 300 Styrofoam ice floes. "Seeing ourselves as victims," says Bronson, another politically incorrect idea they decided to embrace.

Zontal (born Slobodan Saia-Levy) died in February of '94 and Partz (born Ronald Gabe) died that June. The three had rented a penthouse in Toronto in which to spend these last months together, and Bronson describes it as a scene of feverish art activity. If his friends were too weak to work, they could still make decisions. With characteristic wit, they churned out, for example, a series of "infected Mondrians" (replacing all yellows with green, a color Mondrian hated).

Portrait of the artist: AA Bronson, with General Idea's "P is for Poodle"
photo: Robin Holland
Portrait of the artist: AA Bronson, with General Idea's "P is for Poodle"

About a week before he died, Zontal asked Bronson to take his picture. Zontal wanted to document the fact that he looked as his father had the day he was released from Auschwitz. Four months later, Bronson decided to photograph Partz a few hours after his death. He's sitting in bed, his favorite things around him. His body was so wasted he did not have enough flesh left to close his eyes. For five years, Bronson (born Michael Tims) did not make anything, "and when I started, I realized I had to start from their deaths." His photo of Partz, in a huge blowup, appeared at the last Whitney Biennial.

Bronson says General Idea was one organism, one mind, one nervous system, and now, like a stroke victim, he must learn to function without that extended body. A photo on the wall of his West Village apartment shows him suspended, life- size, like the "hanged man" from the tarot deck. "All I can do now is wait for this time to pass to see what I might do with my life. I'm still in the aftermath of General Idea."

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