AA Bronson is the nom d’artiste of Michael Tims, who, in the late 1960s in Toronto, teamed up with Felix Partz (born Ronald Gabe) and Jorge Zontal (born Slobodan Saia-Levi) to form the art collective General Idea. In the 25 years of its existence, the prolific collective produced a wide variety of works—including videos, performances, photographs, prints and publications—often dealing with queer themes and popular culture. Partz and Zontal both died in 1994. Bronson now works independently and has received wide recognition after a major General Idea retrospective appeared at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2011.
Bronson is a serious student of the spiritual and the occult. In March 2012, for instance, he performed a ritual moonlit blessing at Witte de With to inaugurate the program of its new director, Defne Ayas. In the recent show “The Temptation of AA Bronson,” he presented new and old works by about 30 artists in a holistic ensemble. There was a nice buildup to his particular universe. On the first floor, the visitor was presented with a selection of works in a white-cube setting. There was, for instance, Marina AbramoviÄ?’s installation Transitory Objects: Beds for Human and Spirit Use (2012), a series of tables on which visitors can lie down and, through headphones, listen to the amplified hum of vibrations produced by black crystals situated under the tables. Here, too, you found Chrysanne Stathacos’s delicate and beautiful mandala made of rose petals.
The second floor was very different: the spaces were dark, the floor was covered with sage, and you were met by a large nude portrait of Bronson himself, grinning over a considerable beer belly like a well-fed bodhisattva. A long text on the wall brought together statements by a certain Hilarion—a reference to the tempter figure in Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony—and quotes from artists such as Bas Jan Ader, Robert Mapplethorpe, Mike Kelley and Derek Jarman. Works by these artists seemed to merge in a sequence of images, some from popular culture, some quasi-ethnographic, that contributed to the sense that this was a place of ritual, spirituality, magic and eroticism—a temple of sorts. There were some great individual pieces, including large canvases by Elijah Burgher and by Nicolaus Chaffin (in collaboration with Bronson) that feature rune- or ideogramlike images. Bronson’s large-scale photographs of himself, strung up upside down, made for a powerful ensemble, too.
It all worked like a dream. Rotterdam is a down-to-earth, resolutely modernist city, and Bronson’s templelike rooms and their spritual invocations provided a nice contrast to it.