It might be easy to drive past Brooklyn’s THNK1994 Museum if you’re not looking for it, but that’s what makes it one of the city’s truly hidden gems. Sitting on a corner on Atlantic Avenue, the museum isn’t as assuming as some of the city’s other attractions. However, what it lacks in outward appearance, it makes up for in style and content. Devoted to the appreciation of popular culture, THNK1994 is truly one of a kind. Most recently, the museum teamed up with internet celebrity PopCultureDiedIn2009 to create an exhibit dedicated to Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day Barbecue and everything that followed.
If you haven’t come across PopCultureDiedIn2009 on any format before, then you must not be using social media very often. Starting out as a Tumblr blog, the account was solely focused on reliving the glory days of celebrity and tabloid culture. Known for its biting humor and accuracy, the blog has quickly gained traction as an outlet for nostalgia and eventually spread to Instagram and Twitter as well.
The creator, whose real name is Matt, is often asked how it is possible that he remembers all of the events he writes about—especially since he was only a child at the time of most of what he writes about was occurring. But that’s what makes the early 2000s so remarkable; it was the tabloid age, so all proof was tangible. Old magazines are like a time capsule, offering an intimate look into an era mostly everyone hoped they could forget. THNK1994 and PopCultureDiedIn2009 both tap into these physical resources, and that’s what makes their partnership in this most recent exhibit so effective.
The experience of walking into THNK1994 is akin to having all of the trashy magazines you thought you got rid of suddenly throw up on your walls. Everywhere you turn, there is a painting of a starlet (that you could never admit you were envious of) at her worst. Whether it’s Lindsay Lohan in a bikini and an ankle bracelet, or Nicole Richie shoving a corn dog into her mouth, each image capitalizes on moments in time that can never be repeated or replaced.
It is easy to see the ridiculousness of these images in retrospect, but at the time, they were very real. Paparazzi made a living by selling these moments of weakness and we all reveled in the downfalls of the rich and famous, but people like Matt saw a different kind of beauty in these pictures. Ultimately, all of the people in the photos were just that: people. Their weakness was their humanity, and their humanity is what made them interesting.
So, that’s the train of thought that eventually led us here: standing next to knitted sequin ankle bracelets. The exhibit is also equipped with several thick black binders, all of which contain archives of the lives of famous It-Girls from the naughties (think: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan). The front room of the museum features rotating exhibits, all dealing with fame in some capacity. Previous exhibits include portraits of the Olsen twins hiding and Kim Cattrall. The permanent exhibit on the second floor of the museum is where it all started, though. The dimly lit room on the second floor features an extensive look at “the whack that changed television,” also known Tonya Harding’s attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. This is actually where the museum gets its namesake: T.H.N.K.1994.
On your way out of the museum, you have to pass by a framed copy of the email that inspired this entire exhibit: the leaked invitation to Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day Barbecue, notable for its blunt statement that any girl over 100 pounds will not be let in (there will be a scale at the front door!). This tongue-in-cheek ode to tabloids will be showing at THNK1994 until September 10th, and it surely is not an exhibit to miss.
THNK1994 Museum: Surviving Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day Barbecue: Photographs courtesy of Lilly Milman