Honorary Degree Citation - AA Bronson

by Michèle Paulin, November 2009

Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you Mr. AA Bronson, groundbreaking artist, writer, curator, and healer.

Born Michael Tims in Vancouver, Mr. Bronson is known internationally for General Idea, an artist’s group he established in 1969 with Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal.

Prior to joining General Idea, he had been part of a radical commune, published an underground newspaper, and been involved with the beginnings of group and gestalt therapy.

The Toronto-based trio lived and worked together for 25 years and produced countless public art projects, over 100 solo exhibitions and 150 group shows using installation, film, video, photography and performance.

They published the influential FILE magazine, a parody of LIFE magazine, and used subversive wit to push the boundaries of mainstream and pop culture, art, design, architecture, and more.

In 1979, General Idea founded Art Metropole, a non-profit artist-run archive and distribution agency for artists' publications and other materials in Toronto and were active in the formation of the artist-run network across Canada.

The trio wasn’t simply prolific, ironic, or daring. They were cultural activists, who became well known internationally for their early involvement in punk, queer theory, and AIDS issues.

In 1987, they reinvented Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” pop art painting and sculpture as “AIDS.” They started a mass media campaign; the image was printed on posters, billboards, lottery tickets, stamps, and even graced the cover of the Journal of the American Medical Association. They pasted their AIDS poster around New York, which Mr. Bronson viewed as “a sort of virus entering the streets, or the bloodstream, of New York.”

For the next seven years, their art focused almost exclusively on AIDS. General Idea effectively put the spotlight on the pandemic and brought the issues into a gallery space at a time when AIDS was denied, ignored and hushed up.

In 1994, Mr. Bronson's partners passed away of AIDS-related causes and his projects became more focused on the concept of healing. His solo work has been exhibited at Vienna Secession, The Power Plant in Toronto, the Whitney and Montreal Biennials, MCA Chicago, The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in Vancouver, and The National Gallery of Canada.

AA Bronson vit à New York. Il est président de Printed Matter, le plus important organisme sans but lucratif du monde à s’interroger sur le rôle changeant des publications d’artistes dans le domaine de l’art contemporain. M. Bronson est également directeur artistique de l’Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice. Il étudie à l’Union Theological Seminary pour obtenir une maîtrise en théologie.

Lauréat du prix d’excellence de la Ville de Toronto pour l’ensemble de ses réalisations et du prix du Gouverneur général en arts visuels et en arts médiatiques, AA Bronson a aussi été nommé critique invité principal en 2006 par la Yale University School of Art. L’année dernière, il a été fait Officier de l’Ordre du Canada.

Established artists, emerging artists, teachers and students, can learn much from Mr. Bronson and General Idea. Not only has he lectured here at Concordia, but his work has been central to several course offerings in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

The General Idea approach to social change was rather unconventional. As he said in an interview with artist and writer Andi Sutton, “We did not indulge in angry theatrics, but rather presented a quiet steadfast resistance to being invisible.” People had no choice but to pay attention as they broadcast their message on the street and in traditional art spaces. They used the media and in many ways, became the media as they created ad campaigns, publications, performances, etc.

“We were more interested in communication than confrontation,” Mr. Bronson said.

The model he provides of an artist whose work is intimately involved with the world around him and uses irony and humour to identify and fight social injustices and prejudice is an essential one. Concordia and its Faculty of Fine Arts share Mr. Bronson’s commitment to social engagement and community activism.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and honour to present to you AA Bronson so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.