these paintings capture the surreal beauty of mid-2000s celebrity culture
A tribute to 2000s tabloid culture, inspired by Nicole Richie's 2007 Memorial Day BBQ and featuring Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears.
'Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in a Car' by Laura Collins
In 2007, then-reality star of The Simple Life Nicole Richie sent out an email inviting friends to her Memorial Day BBQ. It read: "Girls who weigh more than 100 pounds won't be let in. There will be a scale at the front door!"
It was a joke but the invite was leaked to the media and a shitstorm ensued. This moment in time is being brought back to life at the Tonya Harding Nancy Kerrigan/THNK1994 Museum in Brooklyn (which recently moved to a permanent location at 1436 Atlantic Avenue). "Nicole Richie's 2007 Memorial Day BBQ" is a group exhibition curated by the creator of the website Pop Culture Died in 2009 alongside the museum's founders, Matt Harkins and Viviana Rosales Olen.
Revisiting Britney Spears kissing Madonna onstage at the 2003 MTV Music Video Awards and Lindsay Lohan's alcohol-monitoring anklet, the exhibition, which opens tonight, is a throwback to tabloid trash culture from the early 2000s — inspired by that still-controversial email invite. "All of our exhibits focus on how the media often portrays confident women in a negative light," said Olen. "One thing about the scandal surrounding the leak of the e-mail was that tabloids placed an enormous amount of pressure on women to look a certain way."
The moment Richie made a joke about the pressure to be skinny in the eye of the media, says Olen, the reaction was swift outrage. "We hope the show is a way to celebrate people who are remembered by a generation who grew up with these stars, apart from the way they were covered by tabloids in the 2000s," she said.
There will be a hand-knit replica of Lohan's court-enforced alcohol monitoring anklet, a painting of Winona Ryder's shoplifting incident, and an "IRL gif" of Janet Jackson (made from a lenticular print which changes as you walk by). Naturally, there will be a feast; a BBQ table filled with miniature food. The show's concept is to imagine that everyone coming to the exhibition was CCed on Richie's email.
"The BBQ itself was in 2007, which seemed like the height of tabloid culture," said Olen. "It was a way for us to organize the show around a theme that allowed us to look back at a wide range of scandals that were covered between 2000 and 2009."
The show is centered primarily on how reality stars Hilton and Richie skyrocketed to fame in 2003 with their show on the Fox Network. Looking back, it paved the way for so many reality shows and YouTubers, and even influenced social media as a platform. Hilton, who claims to have invented the selfie, said in a recent interview, that social media has made it easier to become a star. "We started a whole new genre of celebrity that no one had ever seen before," she told W magazine. "Nowadays, I feel like it's so easy becoming famous. Anybody with a phone can do it."
The actual BBQ was a bit of a hot mess. Star of The O.C. Mischa Barton ended up in hospital after falling ill at the party and Richie released a statement that read: "She's good. She just mixed antibiotics and alcohol and got sick." Those words are immortalized in a grandiose calligraphy piece in the show by artist Heather Rohnert.
These women were heavily documented by the media, but they rarely had a voice beyond the odd sound bite. "We started to see that many of the so-called scandals were centered around how these women looked," said Olen. "We wanted the art to move away from that and focus on moments that were our versions of Bonnie and Clyde as teens."
The artwork explores Naomi Campbell's community service couture looks, after she was charged with assaulting her maid, Ana Scolavino, in 2007. As Campbell walked to New York City's garbage collecting center to put in her hours, she wore a silver Dolce & Gabbana dress, which shocked the media. "Campbell refused to let photographers get photos that would portray her in a negative way, so she wore a gown to community service," said Olen.
The show also features a painting by artist Valerie Petrov which shows Winona Rider's shocked expression in court after being sentenced to three years of probation and community service in 2002. Rider went on a shoplifting spree at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills in 2001, where she stole $3,700 worth of merchandise — and wore a Marc Jacobs dress to court for an alleged theft of a piece from the same designer.
Chicago-based artist Laura Collins is also showing a variety of realist paintings featuring early-2000 stars, including one based on a paparazzi shot of Lohan, Hilton, and Britney Spears in a car.
That is probably the most poignant photograph from the period, which captures that culture at its best. "The moment Lohan, Hilton, and Spears all got into a car together was truly a summit of some of the biggest starts of the era," said Olen. "All three of them would eventually be at the center of highly covered scandals, so it's a moment that captures three celebrities that define an era at a moment right before it all went south."
"Nicole Richie's 2007 Memorial Day BBQ" is on view at the THNK199 Museum in Brooklyn from July 28 through September 10.
Text Nadja Sayej
Images courtesy of the THNK1994 Museum