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 Jorge (George Saia) Zontal  (1944 - 1994)

About: Jorge (George Saia) Zontal


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Lived/Active: Ontario / Canada/Italy      Known for: painting, graphic art, prints, sculpture, installation, performance

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
One Day of AZT (1991), 5 units of Fibreglass, 33.5" X 84.25" X 33.5" diameter each
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"There is a General Idea text from the mid-seventies that refers to the gallery's relationship to art being very much like the garage's relationship to the car: we use the gallery to tinker with and repair the work, but the function of our art is out on the road, in a way-it's within the current of the culture."
AA Bronson, 1991

In 1968, AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal founded the Toronto based artists' group General Idea. They took on new names-Bronson, for example, was born Michael Tims-and worked together, each bringing experience and talent in various media. They produced art in many media that would infiltrate and be inspired by popular culture over 26 years. They exhibited internationally, were founding members of the artist's archive and resource centre, Art Metropole, and published the magazine File between 1972 and 1984. Their works are now held by major collecting institutions including the National Gallery of Canada. The group dissolved in 1994 when Partz and Zontal died within months of each other of AIDS related illnesses.

General Idea's subjects came from mass culture's consumerism, celebrity, glamour, and from the art world. Their artworks participated in mass culture, rather than oppose or work outside it. They enjoyed creating ambiguous artworks that blurred the distinction between art and popular culture. In 1972, General Idea launched File magazine. It looked so much like Life magazine- "file" is an anagram of "life"-that the publisher of Life threatened legal action.

In 1970, the group held the first Miss General Idea Beauty Pageant, a contest that provided the framework for much of their art during the decade. A shift came in 1977 with the staged destruction of the fictional 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion, a key element of the project. The pageants continued until 1978, but the focus changed from anticipating the 1984 contest to the archeological retrieval and archival preservation of an event and structure that never existed.

In the late 1980s, General Idea launched their AIDS logo based on Robert Indiana's Love painting from the late 1960s. This new work was immediately recognizable and created an ambiguous message by its obvious homage to Indiana's popular Love logo. Bronson claims that by using an already popular form, they were hoping for immediate acceptance by the public. This would translate into AIDS awareness, but would also enable different interpretations for the piece which took many forms including a poster, screen-saver and t-shirt.

Since the death of Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal, AA Bronson has archived much of General Idea's work, housing it at the National Gallery of Canada. He has produced a billboard project (Felix, 1994) and an artist's book commemorating the group, and received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2002. In 1999 he said he was still "learning again the limits of my nervous system, how to function without my extended body (no longer three heads, twelve limbs), how to create possibilities from my reduced physicality."

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke, Art Historian, West Vancouver, Canada

Source: National Gallery of Canada

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Part of a Toronto-based collaborative art movement called General Idea*, founded in 1968 by himself, Ronald Gabe and Michael Tims and lasting until his death and that of Gabe in 1994, George Saia took the name of Jorge Zontal. His partners, took the names respectively of Felix Partz and AA Bronson.  Working as a trio to be freed "from the tyranny of individual genius", they functioned artistically as a single entity called Miss General Idea*, an irony because the collaborators were gay men.

The focus of the collaboration was to make fun of contemporary art as well as the current media stream including the organization of museum exhibitions. Their mediums were installation sculpture*, films, performance art*, photographs and publications including their own magazine called File to promote their ideas.  In the 1980s, AIDS was a major focus of their efforts, and about this subject Miss General Idea created and distributed mass-produced (multiples) posters, billboards, stamps, lottery tickets and other electronic images.

The trio also did cynical commentary works about pharmaceutical companies' research methods for AIDS medications.  Spreading their messages, the creating of Multiples was a key component, and in 1974, Miss General Idea established a multiples distribution center called Art Metropole.  Included in their multiples were humorous and sardonic references to modern art.  They also kept a regular exhibition schedule.

After Zontal and Partz died of AIDS, Bronson felt as though he had lost his own identify and produced many works dealing with death, survival and moving on in order to rebuild himself with a new self image. In 2003, the Galerie Frederic Giroux in Paris hosted an exhibition of his work, "AA Bronson Healer". In January 2003, a traveling exhibition titled "General Idea: Editions, 1967-1996" was organized by Barbara Fischer for the Blackwood Gallery of the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

Peter Gallo, 'The Enduring Ephemera of General Idea', "Art in America", March 2005, pp. 81-83.

*For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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