After moving in together and watching a documentary on infamous Olympic ice-skating rivals Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, best friends and comics Matt Harkins and Viviana Rosales Olen started the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum, a.k.a., THNK1994, in April, 2015 after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Lacking any alternatives, the two decided to create the ersatz museum in the entrance of their Williamsburg apartment. Not long after opening, the museum attracted loads of friends and strangers alike, some of whom introduced the two roommates to odd YouTube videos like Kim Cattrall doing scat poetry, among other weirdness.
"It became a great umbrella for all this art and all these stories that people wanted to contribute," Olen tells The Creators Project. "Basically, if you were attracted to going to a stranger's hallway museum on Tonya Harding, then we could have an hour-long conversation."
One of the people who first came to check out the museum was Laura Collins, who made a drawing of Tonya Harding's mugshot. Soon, everyone was following each other on social media. "And then [Collins] posted a painting of an Olsen twin hiding behind a giant Birkin bag," says Harkins.
That led to Harkins' and Olen's second exhibit in the spring of 2016, The Olsen Twins Hiding from the Paparazzi. For their sophomore show, Olen and Harkins looked for a storefront and stumbled upon an abandoned doctor's office.
"It was so creepy," says Olen. "We were originally excited because it's big, but then we got in there and it was filthy. They left the needle bins."
Dirty needles notwithstanding, the show was as successful as the first, and because more and more visitors wanted prints, the two unwitting gallerists decided to set up an online store where collaborators have since pitched in with other products as well as branding, design, and marketing. "We wanted to have cool stuff that we would want to own, and we feel like every product expresses that," Olen says.
Originally from Las Vegas, Olen works in admin and marketing, while Brooklyn native Harkins works in hospitality. Still, they found time to curate the online products based on some of their personal favorites like The Olsen Twins Hiding From Dinosaurs, a psychedelic artwork that they decided to turn into a lunchbox after a couple came and bought the original painting for their kid.
"Immediately, we started thinking, 'Oh, this painting is kind of kitschy and fun for kids,' and so that was why I think we went with a lunch box," Harkins says. Should any kid actually take it to school, Harkins believes, "People are gonna have a lot to say about it."
The store not only has the lunchbox, but there's also a kimono with a story of its own. "For the kimono one, we had the painting in our exhibit, and then at the Met Gala this year, the Olsen twins showed up, and we kid you not, they looked exactly like they did in the painting," Harkins says. "We just thought it would be great if we could make kimonos that had the painting on it and then stand in the same position, and then we'd all just keep doing it over and over again until we lost our minds."
In addition to the lunchbox and kimono, there's an aura spray, plates, mugs, coffee, three different greeting card sets, and three different posters. They also sell prints, with 10% of proceeds benefitting charity. Currently, there are close to ten artists represented in the shop, and Harkins and Olsen hope to add as many artists as possible in the near future, with aims of debuting a new "collection" soon.
So what else is next for the unpredictable pop-culture lovers? They're looking to do another exhibit, this time not funded by a Kickstarter campaign, but hopefully through the profits generated by the store.
"While we didn't plan on owning a museum. It's such a passion project for us, and we really would love to an exhibit every year and show more artists in the gift shop," Olen says.
Judging by their past success, this shouldn’t be a problem.