The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant 1971
General Idea, The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant, 1971
Various media (including mail art project, performance, photography, and ephemera), dimensions variable
Various collections, including Collection of the Carmen Lamanna Estate, Toronto; documentation and ephemera held at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
The 1971 Miss General Idea Pageant is one of General Idea’s best-known conceptual projects. This mail art and performance piece was one of a series of faux beauty pageants the group created to interrogate glamour, fame, and the art world. The project can be traced back to an earlier work by the group: What Happened, 1970. This multimedia piece—with a pageant component—was presented at the 1970 Festival of Underground Theatre in Toronto. The pageant format and the figure of Miss General Idea were key elements of the group’s mythology, structures around which they continued to create art in subsequent years.
General Idea found sixteen potential applicants among their network—artists across North America—and mailed out entry kits to these “finalists.” The invitation promised potential competitors the chance to win “fame, fun, and fortune.” Each kit contained rules and regulations, pageant documents, and a pageant gown. Thirteen artists responded. Those who participated in the competition took up the task, submitting photographs that featured their choice for Miss General Idea (dressed in the provided gown). These entries were exhibited at A Space in Toronto.
The extravagant award ceremony took place in Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, and presented a series of excerpted moments from a pageant. The ceremony was carefully scripted and included music, speeches, and prizes. It was all captured on video as a television event, with the crowd as a stand-in for a television audience. The competition judges were well-regarded figures in the art scene, including Daniel Freedman, David Silcox, and Dorothy Cameron. Freedman was one of the original members of General Idea and had lived with the group on Gerrard Street West and Yonge Street. In material for the pageant, he was identified as an actor, “General Idea Glamour Consultant, and the star of the MGM spectacular Fortune and Men’s Eyes.” Silcox was then the Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University and had been the former head of Visual Arts at the Canada Council. Cameron was a well-known critic and art consultant who was a regular on Canada Council juries and had given Partz his first Canada Council grant.
The 1971 Miss General Idea crown was awarded to Vancouver artist Michael Morris (b. 1942), who at that moment announced his new name: Marcel Dot. The judges declared that his submission succeeded in “capturing ‘Glamour’ without falling into it.”