The Arty Semite

AIDS Epidemic as Echo of the Holocaust

By Michael Kaminer

‘Jorge, February 3, 1994,’ by AA Bronson and Jorge Zontal.

Until two of them passed away of complications from AIDS in 1994, the art collective known as General Idea produced an enormous body of intellectually engaging, provocative, and savagely witty work, much of which explored notions of identity and social control. On July 30, the trio will get its first comprehensive retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario when “Haute Culture: General Idea” opens for a five-month run.

Though none of the work on display carries Jewish themes, much of General Ideas oeuvre confronts fascism and manipulation in multiple forms — familial, sexual, political and media-spawned. As surviving member AA Bronson told The Arty Semite at a press preview this week, his late collaborator Jorge Zontal was born Slobodan Saia-Levy in an Italian concentration camp in 1944.

Zontal, who formed General Idea with Bronson and the late Felix Partz, was “a Sephardic Jew whose family originated in Spain,” Bronson said. “But Jorge was never circumcised. The family wanted to pass as Roman Catholic.”

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