High meets low at pop culture art gallery THNK1994

By Former Agent

We attended their latest exhibit on the fashion world’s best party in a bathroom.

THNK1994 museum is the pop culture art gallery you never knew you needed. Located in a ground floor duplex on Atlantic Avenue in Crown Heights, the “museum with a lower-case ‘m’” was founded by comedian BFFs Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen. The title is an acronym for their permanent exhibition, “Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan, 1994,” which features multimedia art, from needlepoints to oil paintings to objets d’arts, featuring the Olympics skating nemeses of the infamous 1994 knee-bashing incident.

Even before the I, Tonya-led Tonya Harding reckoning (Matt, Viviana, and I all noted the New York Times piece “Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now” to be especially gratifying), the duo were inspired by a viewing of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary, The Price of Gold, on Netflix. A gold standard in the franchise, the doc focused on Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the Olympics scandal. Too young to have lived through the events themselves, they were riveted by the story and characters involved, and resolved to make sure all of their friends knew about the players involved — through art.

Originally located in the comically-long hallway of their Williamsburg rental apartment, and funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Matt and Viviana decided to take their idea of irreverent, media-junkie fine art and turn it from “a joke” into reality. After finding immediate success, the running and curating of THNK1994 morphed into their full-time jobs. They moved into a larger space in Crown Heights (1436 Atlantic Ave) in spring 2017. Here, they’ve expanded the number of exhibitions and are now focusing on faster turnaround, aiming for new exhibits every three to four weeks. They work with a network of local artists who create original works surrounding a theme rooted in a specific cultural event or experience.

I was lucky enough to attend the opening of their latest exhibit, “Celebrities Smoking In The Bathroom Floor of the Met Gala,” a reference to the controversial star-studded, selfie session at the 2017 Met Gala, where the crème de la crème of the fashion and entertainment worlds smoked up a storm in the lavatory of New York’s most venerated art institution.

The back room of the gallery was devoted to the new exhibit, one corner covered in a faux tile and glittery grout to resemble bathroom walls, where you, too, could squat in a corner with cigarettes in an art institution (#meta). Candy cigarettes and a mysterious house drink were made readily available — real smokers went outside, a quasi-ironic nod to proper smoking decorum. Among the best pieces were gorgeous, colored pencil drawings by Miriam Carothers, who recreated Instagram posts containing Bella Hadid, Ruby Rose, Paris Jackson, and others. Frequent THNK1994 collaborator Laura Collins, whose previous solo shows include “The Olsen Twins Hiding from the Paparazzi” and “Real Housewives Pointing Fingers,” showcased her “Ashley Olsen at the 2017 Met Gala” acrylic painting. In the spirit of ~fashion~, a selection of her works from her series, “Runway Models Falling,” was included. A 3D diorama by Matt Harkins was my personal favorite — a paper collage of the Met Gala selfies in a cardboard box, with an oversized, papered Anna Wintour residing atop. Other excellent pieces were exhibited by artists Kat Archibald, Derek Covington Smith, Mava, and Liz Grammaticas.

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The place was packed on opening night, filled with comedians, art lovers, and the pop culture obsessed. At one point, a very self-serious art dealer cornered me into a conversation about Laura Collins’ phenomenal brushwork, grilling me about which housewife portrait of her “Real Housewives Pointing” series was my favorite (my answer: “Countess Luann Pointing at You”).

After scurrying away, I found myself in conversation with a pop culture junkie from across the pond, a visitor from London who flew in that day and made sure to start his trip off at THNK1994. “I’ve never seen a place quite like it,” he marveled, as we stared deeply into the eyes of Denise Richards in the Miriam Carothers drawing, “Jesus Loves Winners.

The exhibit “Celebrities Smoking in the Bathroom at the Met Gala” runs through May 6th. Matt and Viviana are looking forward to Tonya Harding’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars and their upcoming exhibition, “David’s Dead: An Exhibit Celebrating Tiffany Pollard,” which opens May 18th.

You can visit THNK1994 at 1436 Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn.

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Photos provided by Matt Harkins

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