Kareem Rahma had New York City’s first pizza museum on his mind long before he made his trip in February to Lebanon’s Jeita Grotto, a 5.6-mile cave system with limestone stalactites measuring as long as 52 feet.
“I was walking around this cave, and I felt like I was inside a gooey, drippy, cheesy crazy weird thing, but it was real, it was stone,” says the founder of Nameless Network, a three-year-old, Gen Z-focused digital media company we can’t say we were familiar with before news of its upcoming Museum of Pizza (a.k.a MoPi) broke Wednesday. “I’d never seen anything like it, and I wanted to recreate that experience I had and bring it to New York.”
Thus was born the idea for the “cheese cave” taking its place alongside a pizza art gallery, a “pizza beach” and other large-scale ‘za-inspired immersive rooms for two weeks this October at a location to be announced, according to a news release.
An experiential exhibition dedicated to one beloved victual and promoted as the perfect backdrop for Instagram selfies is nothing groundbreaking in 2018; Rahma credits the wildly popular Museum of Ice Cream for sparking his own pizza-inspired concept. What is unique about the Museum of Pizza is the first phase of its marketing campaign: A series of fashion magazine spread-style photos depicting models of all colors, ages, genders and sexual orientations eating pizza in highly eroticized ways. A muscly man, nude except for his briefs, feeds himself and a woman straight out of an American Apparel ad. An S&M aficionado wearing a gimp mask and plastic bolero eats a pepperoni slice out of the hand of an off-camera partner. A gender-queer pizza-lover dangles a plain slice in front of their genitalia.
No, the family-friendly museum will not be a sexual one, Rahma promises. But its first set of promotional images — composed by photographer Kate Owen, populated by subjects who turned up at an open casting call and fueled by dozens of pies from Two Boots, Williamsburg Pizza and Fornino — are intentionally sensual and provocative: “It started with this idea of pizza fetish.”
The Museum of Pizza is less about pizza as food than pizza “as ideology,” says the 31-year-old Nameless Network CEO who previously worked as director of audience development for the New York Times’ video arm and as associate director of global marketing for Vice Media.
“We’re looking at … the reasons why everyone from the working class to the internet media cool kids and Twitter people love pizza so much. It’s less about eating it and more about thinking about it and fetishizing it.”
Rahma and his team envisioned an advertising campaign that would be, in his words, “relatable in the sense that when you see it, you’re like, ‘Hell yeah, that is how I feel about pizza. I love pizza. Pizza’s bae.’” (The Brooklynite whose favorite pizzeria is a “tossup between Two Boots and Williamsburg Pizza” says he personally loves pizza so much he’s planning on getting a slice tattooed on his body: “I’ll probably get it on my heart. Close to my heart.”)
The campaign’s luxe production quality and cerebral concept is intended to telegraph just how seriously Nameless Network is taking its first step from the digital world to the physical one, Rahma tells us. In addition to immersive settings, the Museum will feature games, film screenings, musical performances and fine art.
“We want people… to get their money’s worth,” Rahma says, throwing shade on pop-ups he’s personally found wanting in the past. “By investing a lot of money up front… we wanted to make sure that people understood… we were taking this very seriously, and not just throwing up an Eventbrite page.” Rahma, who intends to fund the museum with ticket sales and sponsorships, declined to say exactly how much his company had spent out of its own coffers on advertising so far.
Speaking of major event letdowns: The specter of last year’s New York City Pizza Festival — ticket holders for which arrived to find empty tents and a few skinny slices — inevitably hangs over another pizza showcase, but Rahma swears that the Museum of Pizza will deliver every visitor the one free slice its event page promises. No word yet on the local vendor supplying them, but “for sure, it will be a full slice of pizza,” Rahma vows.
The Museum of Pizza pops up in New York from Oct. 13 to 28. Tickets are $35 for most, but admission is free for adults 60+ and kids ages 3 to 12. A percentage of proceeds will go toward a yet-to-be-announced nonprofit feeding families in need.