Museum Beauty Contest directed by Paco Cao

A meticulous selection of portraits from the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome has been curated to comprise the group of contestants for a Beauty Contest, directed by Spanish-born, New York-based artist Paco Cao. The selection of the contestants involved the active participation of the entire museum staff, from the director to the curatorial, education, and restoration teams, with special attention given to the security guards, considering their daily and constant relationship with the works of art.

The beauty contest has established two categories: male and female; the objective is to select the most beautiful person in each category, based on physical appearance, demeanor, and attitude, independently of the style or technical quality of the works. The jury is the audience. In the competing line-up are portraits from the early 19th century to the late 20th century, created by masters ranging from Giorgio de Chirico to Vincent van Gogh, Umberto Boccioni, Giovanni Boldini, Vincenzo Gemito, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Vittorio Corcos and Amedeo Modigliani, as well as lesser-known and anonymous artists.

In the Primaries −from October 10, 2016 to January 22, 2017− 18 males and 18 females were chosen from the 35 males and 35 females initially selected. Only online voting was available. In the last phase of the contest −from February 20 to May 1, 2017− the contestants will be displayed in the museum’s galleries and the voting process will include online as well as in-person participation, the latter following the traditional method of casting a ballot in a box.

The Museum Beauty Contest will culminate with the celebration of the Grand Finale, next March 27, 2017 −an award ceremony to proclaim the winners in each category, Miss and Mister National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome, as well as to grant several honorific prizes. The exhibition will continue until May 1, 2017. The two winners will become ambassadors for the National Gallery throughout 2017.

The project carried out by Paco Cao activates a powerful, multilayered relationship with the audience using several channels of communication. Indeed, the artist considers that “a media presence and all the processes of intense public mediation are crucial”. “My projects,” he explains, “challenge the boundaries between high and low culture. My art practice seeks to give an unexpected perspective that reflects on contemporary society and establishes a strong interaction between art, context and public. This project is intended to merge contemporary art with the mechanisms of pop culture.” Irony and parody should not be ignored to better comprehend a project that breaks the museum´s fourth wall, questions the “democratic dogma”, and implies a subtle comment on gender and social issues.

The contest mimics a classic format, the golden apple for the fairest of them all, the beauty contest proclaimed by Zeus to choose between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, an iconography shared by the entire history of art through the ages, which treats beauty as a quality, and as a medium of exchange.

The Museum Beauty Contest is an on-going project part of Time Is Out of Joint.

This project is supported by the Fondazione Banca Nazionale delle Comunicazioni, American Academy in Rome, Molto Italiano, Lorenzo Bassetti and A3M Associazione Amici dell’Arte Moderna a Valle Giulia.