New York museum THNK1994 is reliving the aughts with a new show cast in the light of female empowerment
The 2000s are calling and it wants the Simple Life back.
Brooklyn pop culture museum THNK1994 is launching an exhibit this Saturday that commemorates the 2007 Memorial Day barbecue hosted by Nicole Richie, who starred alongside Paris Hilton in the reality television hit “The Simple Life.” The event became a legendary chapter in the annals of pop culture after the snarky invite written by Lionel Richie’s daughter, in which she jokingly claimed women over 100 pounds wouldn’t be allowed in, leaked to the press. It famously ended with party guest Mischa Barton being hospitalized after reportedly mixing alcohol with antibiotics.
While the Kim Kardashians of the 2000s– Paris, Nicole, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, et al.– are easy to mock, gallerist duo Matt and Viviana say that that’s not their intention. “We’re celebrating these people the way that you have shows that celebrate Aerosmith,” says Matt Harkins, one half of the creative couple.
In practical terms, this is what you’ll see when you step into the museum’s Brooklyn space: a barbecue table with cloth, hot dog signs, name tags featuring the identities of the celebs who turned up to Richie’s bash and perhaps even a photo booth. Scattered about are about two dozen art works, ranging from an oil painting to a diorama, featuring famous cultural moments from the aughts. These include Naomi Campbell wearing a gown to do community service, Lohan poolside rocking an ankle monitor, Janet Jackson’s NippleGate moment and Richie with Spears and Hilton in a car.
Matt and Viviana worked with the blogger behind the popculturediedin2009 site for this exhibition, which they argue is really a chance to reflect at how the media treats so-called “difficult women” in pop culture. “Think about when Britney had a breakdown and they threatened to take the kids away,” says Viviana Olen, the other half of the partnership. “This doesn’t happen when Charlie Sheen goes crazy. When men do these things, they’re bad ass. The tabloids show them as sick girls that don’t do anything, but Paris Hilton is such a business woman today.”
Indeed, the exhibition has received the endorsement of the Hilton heiress, who tweeted that she couldn’t wait to see the collection.
What is it about the 2000s that seems to have recaptivated the popular imagination? After all, Juicy Couture recently revived its signature velour tracksuit and Hilton now runs a company with 28 retail boutiques. “2009 was when Twitter and social media really took off and celebrities gained more control over how they were perceived,” says Harkins. “In the past, there was [more] removal and they seemed to be melting down day to day.” He adds that the 2000s saw the birth of reality television and now “the president is a reality TV star! It makes sense to look back to this time period.”
Reflecting on pop culture has worked out well for Matt and Viviana, both former standup comedians who bonded over a love of the Real Housewives. They raised significant amounts for previous exhibitions dedicated to Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and the Olsen twins over Kickstarter and found that they could sustain a business. They opened a physical location in Crown Heights this past spring– previous shows had taken place in their apartment and a doctor’s office– and now make money selling art, gift merchandise and accepting donations from exhibition visitors.
“Now, it feels like we’re working more than full time,” says Olen. The Nicole Richie-themed show runs until September 10th, and they have a Real Housewives exhibition slated for November.
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