We know you’re obsessed with the Olsen twins, Lindsay Lohan, and this video of Kim Cattrall scatting. But you’re probably not as obsessed as Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen—they started a museum about it.
The pair have created exhibitions about all of the above, as well as, currently, Nicole Richie’s infamous 2007 Memorial Day Barbeque, which they curated in collaboration with popular Tumblr, Pop Culture Died in 2009. For their first show, the duo presented a gallery of images and memorabilia surrounding the Winter Olympic Games of 1994, where world-class figure skate Tonya Harding attacked her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.
While it may not be the Met (yet), the creators of the THNK 1994 (Tony Harding Nancy Kerrigan 1994) Museum have evolved a wall in their living room dedicated to their favorite athletes into a permanent, fully-realized exhibition space dedicated to showcasing and selling the artwork of female and LGBTQ artists.
The museum is located at 1436 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and open from 12-7 PM Wednesdays through Sundays. In addition to their exhibitions, they hold live events that (we can confirm) are always incredible: they’ve had panel discussions on Britney Spears, for instance, as well as screenings of 9 To 5 and Moana.
We sat down with the curatorial duo to find out the story of how this fabulously strange gallery space came to be.
How’d you two find each other?
Viviana Matt and I met through Upright Citizens Brigade. We were both comedians there, and then we met at a party and just decided to be friends. When we decided to start working together, we weren’t really doing UCB as much anymore, and we were both just feeling a little lost. But we started hanging out, and we were having a lot of fun, he’d come over, we’d watch Real Housewives, we’d swipe on Tinder… it was just heaven.
How did the idea to make a museum together form?
Viviana We decided to move in together. The first apartment we looked at we took—it was in Williamsburg, and we thought, “Oh, there are a lot of hot guys in Williamsburg.” It was a tiny apartment. It felt like a boat. But there was a 25-foot long hallway instead of a living room, and we thought, “Oh, we have to do something with this hallway.” And Matt’s friend came over and told us we looked like serial killers and needed to put some art on the walls. But it was winter, and neither of us had boyfriends, so we watched a lot of movies. We watched that Netflix documentary, The Price of Gold, about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Winter Games. We just couldn’t stop talking about it, and it was at a time in Netflix where no one was watching anything at the same time, so no one else seemed to care about it. So we decided to make a museum. If it had happened today, there would have been a million think pieces about it.
How did people initially react when they heard about the Tonya and Nancy exhibit?
Matt People would say, “You’re so cynical,” or “This is a joke, right?” But then we explain “No,” and go into this long detailed background of the story we’re exhibiting.
Viviana In retrospect, of course there was a huge figure skating community who felt like this story kind of belonged to them. And we began talking to people who were there at the time—reporters, and people who made art. And we’d meet people and they’d give us artifacts—a woman gave us a pin from the Championship where it happened. We got press passes from where the attack happened. We got all these things that were really important, so it went from, “Oh, we’re going to blow up pictures of Tonya and Nancy and be cute” to “Oh, we have these very real things, people are excited about it, people want to come. Let’s make this as nice as possible.” We let strangers into our house, but it wasn’t scary, because if you’re going to a figure skating museum, there’s someone you can hang out with. You know? We’ve met so many great people. No matter the exhibit, it’s always so fun to meet people in real life, off the internet. It’s a muscle you don’t flex unless you have to.
How did you guys end up in the physical museum space, then?
Matt We were on our way to meet this artist, who has a painting of Naomi Campbell in the show right now, of her in her outfit doing community service. No one got a bad photo of her—she wore gowns. And on the way we passed this place, and it looked splendid, and we’d already been talking about doing some more exhibits, and trying to find a permanent space that would allow us to do that.
Viviana If you do a pop-up, like we did for the “Olsen Twins” one, you spend, like, $2,500 for two weeks. So we were trying to be more economical.
How did this show come about?
Viviana We’ve known about him for awhile. We’re huge fans. He’s so smart, and just a fabulous curator. He had reblogged one of our “Olsen Twins Hiding From the Paparazzi” images from our show last year, and so we started following each other. Then for our “Yamma Kippi Yaybo” exhibit, I think he came by for one of those events, and we approached him about doing something. We’ve been working on lining up shows for the whole year, and we wanted to do something with him about the 2000s. So we decided to do a series about scandal, beginning with Winona, and being caught shoplifting. When social media became bigger, tabloid culture kind of died down, because you could hear things straight from celebrities’ mouths.
How do you get in touch with the artists you choose to use for your exhibits?
Viviana When we launched our first exhibit—about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan—and we did a Kickstarter, a bunch of artists reached out to us then. A lot of them we still haven’t actually met to this day, like Heather Rohnert, who does all of our calligraphy. We’ll find people who like what we do, and are doing something similar. That’s how we met Laura Collins—she already had a drawing of Tonya Harding. Then we saw that she had all these paintings of the Olsen twins hiding from the paparazzi, and we were like, “Woah, what is this?” And she said she was doing a series. We said, “These should be in a museum!” And then we realized we had a museum. That was a really cool partnership to form with her—we actually represent her now.
What other plans do you have for upcoming exhibits?
Matt After this one, we have “Real Housewives Pointing Fingers,” and then after that, we’re working on the times between exhibits, when we’re sending out all the pieces that sold to whomever bought them. So we’re thinking between exhibits we want to open the space to local artists, to show their work in.
Viviana We’ll find something that speaks to us—like the “Yamma Kippi Yaybo” exhibit—so we’re now waiting for things to come to us. We’ll watch a movie at 2 AM and be like, “Oh my god this!” So we have a lot of TV to watch.
What are your favorite TV shows to binge?
Viviana We are well-versed in the Housewives universe, from start to finish, every location. We feel like the Dallas one is really underappreciated, and it’s a good one to jump on to, because it’s only in its second season.
Matt It’s a really good season. There’s a carnie, who was raised in a carnival, and her tagline is “You don’t mess with a carnie.” But terrible stuff happened to her at the carnival.
Have any of the celebrities you’ve done exhibits about acknowledged the show?
Viviana During the Olsen twins one—this was before Postmates was big—we were at the space, and we tweeted “Somebody bring us some Frappuccinos. And 30 minutes later, a courier came. And he had two mocha Frappuccinos for us. And he wouldn’t tell us who it’s from. Now, I don’t know who has courier money other than the Olsen twins.
What are your ultimate curatorial aspirations?
Matt Well, what we love about the space is it really is an unhinged madhouse of people coming, and having conversations about Tonya Harding, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. So we’d love to keep doing shows about specific topics—with a lot of these, you’re trained to have a defensive way of reacting to it, or apologizing for the fact that you love it. But there’s no need. You’re preparing for it to be called stupid, when it’s like, “I know it’s stupid. And I like it.”
Viviana Yeah, like, “It makes me happy. Is that not enough for you? I have to hate myself for liking something?”
Matt So we want to have a space where people feel comfortable to come and talk about these things. We’re more than down at any time to have a real, in-depth conversation about Britney Spears.
Viviana We just had a Britney Spears panel, and so many people came who we didn’t know, from all corners of New York. It got emotional, like group therapy—people talked about what Britney meant to them, and how she helped them, and we all listened to music. It didn’t matter how many followers you had, or anything like that. It was spiritual, like church.
What’s the permanent collection like?
Matt We built up some of our old exhibits in the back, yeah. We’ve got the whole Tonya Nancy exhibit up, and bits and pieces of the others.
Viviana We love the space. It looks like if Jennifer Aniston were playing a travel writer in a rom com—the place where she would live.
THNK 1994’s current exhibit, Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day BBQ, runs through August 11. Their next exhibit, Real Housewives Pointing, opens in October.