TABLE OF CONTENTS

Collection Summary
 

Biographical Sketch

Scope and Content

Index Terms

Administrative Information

Contact Information

Item Level Description

Box List

National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives

Robert Collison fonds:

Finding Aid



Collection Summary

Title: Robert Collison fonds.
Dates: – 3 May 1994 - [June or July 1994].
Quantity:  – 11 audio cassettes (14 hrs.) and 8 pages of textual records.

Biographical Sketch

Robert Collison was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and holds a BA (honours) from the University of Manitoba and a MSc (economics) from the London School of Economics. He is a writer, journalist, filmmaker, and public relations professional based in Toronto. Collison has written for most major Canadian magazines and newspapers and served in major editorial roles at publications in Toronto and Vancouver. He has written, directed, and produced feature-length documentary films for the National Film Board of Canada and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and worked as a corporate communications consultant. Collison has won numerous prizes for his writing, including National Magazine Awards, the Author's Award, the Petroleum Prize, and the ACTRA Award (the precursor of the Gemini Award) for screenwriting.

In 1994 Collison began working on a profile of celebrated artist collaborative General Idea for Saturday Night magazine. He interviewed artists AA Bronson (b. 1946) and Felix Partz (1945-1994) over the course of several weeks, finishing shortly before Partz's death in June; he also interviewed numerous friends and associates of General Idea. His profile of the artists, entitled Party of Three, was published in September, 1995. The article received honourable mention in the Arts and Entertainment category of the 1995 National Magazine Awards.

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Scope and Content

The fonds consists of 12 recordings on 11 audio cassettes. Among the recordings are interviews with AA Bronson, Felix Partz, Lonti Ebers, Elke Town, Hudson, Joshua Decter, Gary Michael Dault, and Marianne Staniszewski; portions of the 1994 Chalmers Awards Ceremony at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto; and an interview with Donald Obonsawin, unrelated to General Idea. Also included are Collison's typed notes summarizing the contents of the tapes.

The material was created in the course of Robert Collison's research for his article Party of three, a profile of General Idea that appeared in Saturday Night magazine (vol. 110, no. 7) in September, 1995. The article was intended for a non-specialist audience, and the interviews relate to General Idea's career in overview; the lives, relationships, and roles within General Idea of AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal; and the significance of sexuality and AIDS to their work and lives. The interviews began several months after Zontal's death in February 1994, and during the course of Collison's research Felix Partz died as well. Nearly all of the interviews deal in some way with the illness and death of Partz and Zontal, and the impact of AIDS on the arts.

Source of title: Title based on content of fonds.

Immediate source of acquisition: The fonds was donated to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives by Robert Collison, Toronto, Ontario, 2011.

Terms governing use and reproduction: Permission to reproduce or publish material from the Robert Collison fonds must be obtained from the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.

Finding aids: Item level description available.

Related material: Other records relating to General Idea can be found in the General Idea fonds; the General Idea Collection, Art Metropole Collection; and the General Idea series of the Fern Bayer fonds.

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Index Terms

Names:
Bronson, AA, 1946-
Partz, Felix, 1945-1994
Zontal, Jorge, 1944-1994
Organizations:
General Idea
Document Types:
Audio cassettes

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Administrative Information

Processing Information

Collection arranged and described by Lisa Harrison in 2012.

Preferred Citation

[Title of item], Robert Collison fonds, Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada.

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Contact Information

Cyndie Campbell
Head, Archives, Documentation and Visual Resources
Library and Archives
National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
P.O. Box 427, Station A
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 9N4
 
T 613-990-0597
F 613-990-9818
 
ccampbel@gallery.ca 


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Item Level Description

AA Bronson and Felix Partz. – 3-5 May 1994. – 4 audio cassettes (5 hrs., 11 min.).
Robert Collison interviews AA Bronson and Felix Partz of General Idea. The interview traces the evolution of General Idea's career from 1968 to 1994.
[Tape 1] Bronson, Partz, and Zontal met through Mimi Paige in 1968. Partz and Bronson talk about their early independent careers and their ties with Rochdale College, Theatre Passe Muraille, Coach House Press, and Intermedia. General Idea's house on Gerrard Street was the site of impromptu window displays and their first exhibitions: Waste Age, Inside Today's Home, The Belly Store, and Betty's. Their first work under the name General Idea was The Line Project for the show Concept 70 at Nightingale Gallery (later A Space) in 1970. They discuss the anonymity of the group before Bronson, Partz, and Zontal formalized their collaboration; their move to a studio on Yonge Street; and the first two Miss General Idea beauty pageants (1970-71), including various people involved in the second pageant: Pascal, Margaret Coleman, David Silcox, Dorothy Cameron, and Michael Morris. Partz and Bronson talk about their use of pseudonyms; FILE magazine (1972-89) and its connection with Image Bank; and the Miss General Idea pavilion. They describe their early motivations and the conceptual foundations of their work, and mention the radio project Club Canasta (1972).
[Tape 2] Bronson and Partz note the influence of theorists Claude Lévi-Strauss, William Burroughs, and John Brockman. They talk about their first show with dealer Carmen Lamanna (Light-on, 1972); their relationship with the Western Front; and how the Miss General Idea pageant/pavilion narrative became central to their project (1970-75). They discuss the destruction of their imagined pavilion (Reconstructing Futures, 1977) and the beginning of their archaeological works in 1980, their relationship with museum culture, their move away from performance, and the origin and significance of their poodle imagery. Their relationship with Carmen Lamanna was problematic, and they explain their decision to leave his gallery in the mid-1980s. They discuss the recurrent sexual themes in General Idea's work; their interest in heraldry (The Armoury, 1985, and Fear Management, 1987); and the negative critical response to the Toronto show Baby Makes 3 (1984). After significant success in Europe, Bronson and Zontal relocated to New York (1986), where they initially struggled to establish themselves. They explain how their first AIDS painting (1987) evolved into a larger project, and they address the controversy and success of their AIDS work.
[Tape 3] Felix Partz is absent at the start of the session; Collison asks which writers have effectively represented General Idea, and Bronson names Joshua Decter and John Bentley Mays. They talk about the art scene in Toronto during the 1970s. Felix Partz arrives and the discussion turns to General Idea, their group dynamic, and why they avoided individual credit or attribution. They discuss living between Toronto and New York, Partz's initial feelings of exclusion, and their evolving self-image during that period, particularly with respect to the idea of becoming "rich, famous, and glamorous." They talk about closing the Miss General Idea narrative and taking up the more personal AIDS narrative, referring to General Idea's earlier work around identity, including their self-portraits. Bronson and Partz trace the development of General Idea's AIDS project. They discuss the 1992 exhibition Fin de siècle, the installation of the same name (1990), and its relationship to the earlier works silver ruins (Toronto's Fault: The Ruins of the Silver Bar from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, 1984) and blue ruins (The Ruins of the Chroma Key Club, 1985), as well as Caspar David Friedrich's The Sea of Ice (1823). They address the seal imagery and the significance of "victimology" to their later work. They talk about AIDS, Canadian and American healthcare, and early criticism of General Idea's AIDS project.
[Tape 4] Partz and Bronson talk about the installation process. Partz mentions his television interview with Gary Michael Dault (CBC Newsworld's Arts Report, 18 Apr. 1993) and expresses general disappointment in the CBC's arts coverage. Bronson and Partz talk about media coverage of their work; their preference for working with young, experimental galleries; their relationship with dealer Lucio Amelio; and working outside the museum system. They discuss the American art market, their first New York gallery (International with Monument), and the publicity generated by Jorge Zontal's obituary in the New York Times (Roberta Smith, 8 Feb. 1994). They describe New York critic Joshua Decter as a General Idea specialist. They speak about the role of art in historic and contemporary culture. As the interview concludes, they discuss their schedules and Felix Partz's upcoming treatment.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins with tape 1 and continues on tapes 2, 3, and 4.

The Chalmers Awards. – May 1994. – 1 audio cassette (8 min.).
A partial recording of the Chalmers Awards Ceremony at Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto. General Idea received the Jean A. Chalmers National Visual Arts Award in 1994. The recording contains portions of several speeches, including AA Bronson's acceptance of the award.
Sound quality is poor.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 4, side A at 41 min.

Lonti Ebers. – 10 May 1994. – 1 audio cassette (41 min.).
Robert Collison interviews Lonti Ebers, an art consultant and dealer who worked with General Idea. Ebers talks about meeting General Idea and working with them on the Toronto Stock Exchange mural (Ursa Major and Taurus, 1983), which she feels brought their work out of the margins. She talks about her role as a facilitator, how the installation came together, how General Idea worked as a group. They discuss a subsequent public art proposal by General Idea which did not go forward (at 70 University Avenue, Toronto). Ebers finds General Idea's AIDS project less interesting than their earlier work because of its political agenda; she considers the group's ability to infiltrate different media to be the basis for their success.
Sound quality is poor.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 4, side B at 4 min.

Donald Obonsawin. – [date unknown]. – 1 audio cassette (38 min.).
Robert Collison and an unidentified person interview Donald Obonsawin, who was a deputy minister in the Ontario Public Service from 1987 to 2002. The discussion relates to employment equity and First Nations communities. The interview is not related to General Idea.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 5, side A.

AA Bronson. – 14 May 1994. – 2 audio cassettes (1 hr., 31 min.).
Robert Collison interviews AA Bronson. The interview focuses on the individual lives of AA Bronson and Jorge Zontal and the relationships within General Idea.
[Tape 5] Bronson talks about Jorge Zontal's family's escape from Italy during World War II, his upbringing and his later immigration to Canada. Zontal travelled widely, and Bronson emphasizes his love of film and theatre and his involvement with Intermedia. They discuss Zontal's illness and his decision to return from New York to Toronto in 1993. Bronson summarizes his own early life and his activities in Winnipeg as a student revolutionary. He talks about being gay and the relationship of General Idea's work to 1970s queer culture. Bronson describes Zontal and Partz as his life companions, and explains the difficulty each had in forming successful relationships outside of General Idea. He talks about the relationships within the group and how each became dependent on the others.
[Tape 6] Bronson speaks about Jorge Zontal's social personality and life in New York. He responds to Lonti Ebers's comments regarding the Toronto Stock Exchange project (note: see Collison's first interview with Lonti Ebers, tape 4), and explains General Idea's dislike of public art competitions. Bronson talks about the deaths of Jorge Zontal, David Buchan, and Robert Flack within several months of each other, the progression of Zontal's illness and his determination to die in the best possible way. Collison and Bronson discuss the response of the gay community to the AIDS epidemic. Bronson talks about Jorge Zontal's resemblance, before his death, to his father coming out of Auschwitz. He describes Felix Partz's deteriorating health and his strong mental energy and willpower, General Idea's recent productivity and success, and his intention to continue working on General Idea projects. Collison and Bronson talk about Sandra Simpson (art dealer) and Lonti Ebers, and their negotiations regarding a General Idea artwork they jointly own.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 5, side A at 38 min. and continues on tape 6.

Felix Partz. – 18 May 1994. – 2 audio cassettes (1 hr., 27 min.).
Robert Collison interviews Felix Partz. The interview focuses on Partz's life before General Idea.
[Tape 6] Beginning with his school years, Partz describes his poor academic performance and his attraction to intellectual circles. In high school he was taught art by Winston Leathers. At the University of Manitoba Partz enrolled in advertising and design, but transferred to the painting department with the encouragement of professors Ken Lochhead and Don Reichert. Partz won a public art competition at the university, and the sculpture is still installed on campus (Sunbeams, 1965). Partz talks about sharing a studio with classmates Stephen Jackson, Jeffrey Funnell, and Russell Wimbush, and later travelling to London with the help of a Canada Council grant, intending to establish a studio there. After travelling in Europe and briefly staying in New York and Toronto, he returned to Winnipeg and started a studio. He talks about his move to Toronto in 1968, his relationship with his family, and coming out to his family after his HIV diagnosis.
[Tape 7] Partz continues to describe his relationship with his family, their reaction to his work as an artist, his sexuality and coming out as gay, and the difficulty of sustaining relationships outside of General Idea. He describes himself as identifying very strongly with General Idea, constantly dreaming up projects and thinking about the work. He talks about the relationships within General Idea and how they worked together. The discussion turns to his illness, his will to live, and his continuing drive to make art. Partz says that he always dreamed about group projects and felt limited on his own, both practically and socially. He mentions his friendship with Fern Bayer several times.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 6, side A at 39 min. and continues on tape 7.

Lonti Ebers. – [June 1994?]. – 1 audio cassette (24 min.).
Robert Collison interviews Lonti Ebers a second time. The two discuss General Idea's social relationships, the European and American art markets, General Idea's move from performance to object production, their relationship with Carmen Lamanna, several General Idea artworks owned by Ebers, and the role of glamour and sexuality in General Idea's work.
Sound quality is very poor. The interview takes place in a crowded setting and is very difficult to hear.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview is on tape 8.

Elke Town. – 11 June 1994. – 2 audio cassettes (1 hr., 38 min.).
Robert Collison interviews Elke Town. Town, a critic and independent curator, was a friend of General Idea and also worked at Art Metropole.
[Tape 9] Town talks extensively about the relationships between Bronson, Zontal, and Partz, their personalities and their roles within General Idea. She tells a number of stories about all three and talks about her close relationship with Jorge Zontal. Town suggests that General Idea was greatly influenced by Andy Warhol. She mentions Michael Smith's video for Jorge Zontal's memorial in New York. She describes the Miss General Idea project as cool and analytical, whereas she feels that General Idea's AIDS work was more intimate and emotional; she relates this change to their being personally affected by AIDS. She talks about General Idea's connection to the gay community and their ironic distance from straight culture. Town characterizes General Idea as architects of their own careers; she notes the importance of Art Metropole within the Canadian art world and also as a personal distribution system for General Idea.
[Tape 10] Town discusses Felix Partz's relationships with Tim Guest and Fern Bayer. She talks about Partz's parents and his relationship with them, and also about Jorge Zontal's family history, his mother's visit to New York before he died, and his vitality and sense of spirit. Collison and Town discuss General Idea's importance to Canadian culture, their late arrival on the American scene, their relationship with Carmen Lamanna, and Lamanna's contracts with other artists. Town talks about her role as an executor of Partz's and Zontal's estates, and voices her dislike of Felix Partz.
Sound quality is poor.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins with tape 9 and continues on tape 10.

Hudson. – June 1994. – 1 audio cassette (17 min.).
Robert Collison interviews Hudson, a New York gallerist who occasionally sold and exhibited General Idea's work. Hudson talks about General Idea's unique and longstanding collaboration. Calling their work poetic, he feels they avoided being too literal or didactic in approaching sociopolitical issues. He situates them historically in relation to the salon and other artists concerned with the cultural milieu. Hudson speaks critically about the American art world's focus on New York and the difficulty that outsiders have in being accepted there. His first introduction to General Idea's work came through Bill Olander in 1979, and he knew them personally from around 1984. He talks about the viability of their work and about AA Bronson's plans for the future of General Idea.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 10, side A at 38 min.

Joshua Decter. – [June or July 1994]. – 2 audio cassettes (55 min.).
Robert Collison interviews Joshua Decter, a New York critic and curator.
[Tape 10] Decter contributed an essay to the Fin de siècle exhibition catalogue and explains that he travelled with the exhibition and gave lectures at various venues. He talks about General Idea's long collaboration, their talent for producing serious, conceptual art with a sense of humour, and their importance to Canadian art. He considers Andy Warhol's influence on the group and their outsider status in the American art scene. He describes the conceptual and thematic continuity between their earlier and later bodies of work, and he talks about General Idea's self awareness, contrasting them with unreflectively "careerist" artists. Decter speculates about how they worked together on projects, describing Jorge Zontal as the subversive element in the group. He considers the critical response to General Idea's AIDS project and the role of emotion in the Fin de siècle works.
[Tape 11] Decter and Collison talk about the future of General Idea and AA Bronson's plans. Decter talks about Jorge Zontal's illness and death, recalling an incident from around the time that Zontal's health started to decline. He addresses the impact of AIDS on the arts and the significance of sexuality to General Idea's work. Decter shares AA Bronson's description of the last moments of Felix Partz's life.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 10, side B at 10 min. and continues on tape 11.

Gary Michael Dault. – [June or July 1994]. – 1 audio cassette (24 min.).
Collison interviews Toronto writer and art critic Gary Michael Dault. Dault explains that although he admired General Idea's intelligence and inventiveness, he also found their work cold and distancing. He remembers a video, filmed by Victor Coleman at Nightingale Gallery, in which he argues with John Bentley Mays about General Idea's work. Despite his reservations, he feels General Idea was avant garde and extremely influential, and he praises their AIDS work in particular. He describes his relationship with and personal impressions of Bronson, Partz, and Zontal. He talks about artist John Scott and about the AIDS epidemic.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 11, side A at 20 min.

Mary Anne Staniszewski. – [June or July 1994]. – 1 audio cassette (46 min.).
Collison interviews New York critic and curator Mary Anne Staniszewski. Staniszewski was a colleague, friend, and neighbour of General Idea in New York. She speaks about General Idea's ability to blend a rigorous conceptual practice with the seduction of mass media, popular culture, and kitsch, following producer artists such as Andy Warhol and Yves Klein. She considers their relationship to the New York art scene; their prescience of the cultural concerns of the 1980s and 90s; and the continuity between their earlier and later work. She talks about her own relationship with General Idea, particularly Jorge Zontal; the nature of General Idea's collaboration; the relationship of their work to gay culture; the AIDS epidemic; and Jorge Zontal's death.
Sound quality is good.
Cassette reference copy is available. Interview begins on tape 11, side A at 44 min.

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Box List

Box Folder
Box 1 File 1 Notes re: General Idea interviews
Box Folder
Box 2 Tape 1 (Audio cassette reference copy) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 3 May 1994
Tape 2 (Audio cassette reference copy) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 3-4 May 1994
Tape 3 (Audio cassette reference copy) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 4 May 1994
Tape 4 (Audio cassette reference copy) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 4 May 1994 / Chalmers / Lonti Ebers, 10 May 1994
Tape 5 (Audio cassette reference copy) AA Bronson, 14 May 1994 / Obonsawin
Tape 6 (Audio cassette reference copy) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 14 May 1994
Tape 7 (Audio cassette reference copy) Felix Partz, 18 May 1994
Tape 8 (Audio cassette reference copy) Lonti Ebers
Tape 9 (Audio cassette reference copy) Elke Town, 11 June 1994
Tape 10 (Audio cassette reference copy) Elke Town / Hudson / Joshua Decter
Tape 11 (Audio cassette reference copy) Joshua Decter / Gary Michael Dault / Mary Anne Staniszewski
Box Folder
Box 3 Tape 1 (Original audio cassette) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 3 May 1994
Tape 2 (Original audio cassette) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 3-4 May 1994
Tape 3 (Original audio cassette) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 4 May 1994
Tape 4 (Original audio cassette) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 4 May 1994 / Chalmers / Lonti Ebers, 10 May 1994
Tape 5 (Original audio cassette) AA Bronson, 14 May 1994 / Obonsawin
Tape 6 (Original audio cassette) AA Bronson & Felix Partz, 14 May 1994
Tape 7 (Original audio cassette) Felix Partz, 18 May 1994
Tape 8 (Original audio cassette) Lonti Ebers
Tape 9 (Original audio cassette) Elke Town, 11 June 1994
Tape 10 (Original audio cassette) Elke Town / Hudson / Joshua Decter
Tape 11 (Original audio cassette) Joshua Decter / Gary Michael Dault / Mary Anne Staniszewski

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