AA Bronson

A pioneer of conceptual and queer art, AA Bronson (born Michael Tims in 1946) has made an extraordinary contribution to international contemporary art, activism, theory, independent publishing and radical education. Spanning many decades and mediums, Bronson’s work reflects his identity as an artist, curator, educator and healer, and incorporates themes such as love, sexuality, violence, mourning and trauma.

Born in Vancouver, Bronson moved to Winnipeg in 1964 to study architecture at the University of Manitoba. In 1967, he and a group of friends dropped out to form an alternative community comprising a Free School, commune and underground newspaper. By the late 1960s, Bronson was living at Toronto’s Rochdale College, an experiment in student-run alternative education.

In 1969 — along with Felix Partz (born Ron Gabe) and Jorge Zontal (born Slobodan Saia-Levy) — Bronson founded General Idea. For the next twenty-five years, the three artists lived and worked together, addressing themes ranging from mass media and popular culture to queer identity and the AIDS epidemic.

After the 1994 deaths of Partz and Zontal from AIDS-related complications, Bronson launched a solo career. His acclaimed photograph Felix Partz, June 5, 1994 (1994/1999) is a haunting image depicting Partz shortly after death, surrounded by tokens of comfort and joy—a portrayal of illness and loss, but also a testament to life and memorialization. Following the dissolution of General Idea, Bronson became increasingly interested in healing. Drawing upon shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, ceremonial magic, the occult, and associated practices, Bronson’s work as both artist and healer examines alternative healing, with particular attention to historical and contemporary traumas.

Bronson’s work frequently involves collaboration. Notable projects include A Public Apology to Siksika Nation (2017–), produced in dialogue with Blackfoot artist Adrian Stimson. The project addresses Canada’s colonial history and the destruction of Indigenous culture, as well as the residential school system — which involved Bronson’s great-grandfather, the first missionary to Alberta’s Siksika reserve. Bronson’s collaborations with younger artists include Invocation of the Queer Spirits (2008–2010) — a performance series exploring queer and marginalized histories in North America. Preserving the legacy of General Idea, he occasionally revisits their oeuvre in works such as After General Idea (2018), featuring the group’s iconic AIDS motif in a book containing tear-out posters—a powerful comment on the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis.

In the spirit of experimentation, collaboration, and inclusivity that characterizes his work, Bronson was the Director of Printed Matter, Inc. in New York City from 2004 to 2010, and founded Printed Matter’s annual NY Art Book Fair and LA Art Book Fair. He was also the founder and co-director of the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He has taught at UCLA, the University of Toronto, and the Yale School of Art, and is the recipient of three honorary doctorates. In 2008, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 2011, was named a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et lettres by France’s Minister of Culture and Communications.

© Arne Svenson Photographer