“My fellow Americans it’s that time of year / To celebrate our country by drinking massive amounts of beer / Let’s stand together as one, live the American dream /Take shots, pass out, & wake up with our pants ripped open at the seems / Let’s glorify this day in your sluttiest tops and your tightest pair of tsubi jeans / Even though we have no f***** clue what Memorial Day really means!!”
In the history of American arts and letters, Nicole Richie’s email invite to her 2007 Memorial Day BBQ stands alone. For one thing, it rhymes. Then there’s the painfully aughts cultural references (“tsubi jean?”) the running anorexia gag (“no girls over 100 pounds allowed in”), and Richie’s apparent refusal to proofread an invite that was so obviously fated for tabloid infamy (was there even spell check in 2007?).
These days, the world of celebrity gossip and the actual world we live in look similarly bleak. The country teeters on the brink of nuclear war and we’re expected to distract ourselves with endless reports of Ariel Winter clapping back against body-shamers. Meanwhile, Scott Disick is casually sleeping with Bella Thorne and Justin Bieber is simultaneously rededicating his life to Jesus and hitting paparazzi with his car. Surveying this depressing gossip wasteland, populated by C-Listers whose last names we’ll never remember and four Chris’s that no one can tell apart, it’s easy to forget the giants that roamed here once: starving six-foot-tall white girls with names like Mischa and Paris who flashed Los Angeles from souped-up SUVs, stole each other’s boyfriends and pioneered the genre of reality TV.
Long before Kendall Jenner offended the ghost of Tupac Shakur or Taylor Swift discovered Instagram, Lindsay Lohan had a breakdown and Nicole Richie went to rehab citing an inability to put on weight. These iconic aughts stars racked up tabs at Les Deux while pushing the limits of egregious, endlessly amusing celebrity behavior. And no one understands the geography of this prelapsarian entertainment Eden as well as Matt, the mysterious 19-year-old blogger behind Pop Culture Died in 2009. On his carefully curated Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, Matt guides over a hundred thousand followers through his very own time capsule: tabloid covers, paparazzi photo shoots and breathless updates on the tan rich kids of the mid- to- late aughts. Nothing in the news today will give you as much joy as screenshots of tabloids from 10 years ago—the nostalgia-soaked celebrity car chases, fake pregnancies, and diet tips of yesteryears.
Now, thanks to a new exhibit at Brooklyn’s THNK 1994 Museum, Matt’s virtual burn book has taken on a tangible form. Through September 10th, Britney lovers and Simple Life stans can surround themselves with the trashy pop culture equivalents of saintly relics, courtesy of the diminutive museum’s “Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day BBQ” exhibit. The show came about when THNK 1994’s co-founders, Viviana Rosales Olen and Matt Harkins, reached out to Pop Culture Died in 2009.
“We wanted to build a show that would pay respect to his work and the mid-2000s as an era,” they told The Daily Beast. “Our past three shows have focused on specific topics like the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, a series of paintings of the Olsen Twins Hiding From The Paparazzi by Laura Collins, and a YouTube video of Kim Cattrall performing spoken word poetry, so we wanted to focus on one specific moment from the aughts. The BBQ was in 2007 at the height of the media’s focus on celebrity scandals, right before a summer when many of the familiar faces ended up in court.”
Naturally, since Juicy Couture is coming back and LiLo comeback conjectures never left, THNK 1994’s newest exhibit feels long overdue. The highly anticipated show even caught the eye of Paris Hilton herself, who tweeted that she couldn’t wait to see it (the tweet has since been deleted, presumably after Matt talked Hilton through the specifics of the show, which includes many references to mugshots, prescription drug abuse, and the formerly omnipresent ankle monitor).
“Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day BBQ” takes us to the absolute limit of celebrity obsession, stuffing a small room full of painstaking oil paintings with titles like “Lindsay Lohan posing in a bikini and ankle monitor” alongside hand-drawn calligraphy of Nicole Richie official statements and Chris Crocker quotes. Considering a pastel drawing of Marissa Cooper aka Mischa Barton as “Medusa Barton” (i.e. snakes instead of hair), you will wonder at the amount of care these artists took in bringing mid-aughts celebrities to life. Of course, hours spent committing Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton’s infamous car-scapade to canvas are far more productive than the cumulative years we’ve all dedicated to tracking these starlets’ every move, sans artistic outlet or paycheck. This exhibit, like taking a joyride with a pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel, promises to provoke equal parts pride and nausea. You will congratulate yourself for remembering the exact outfit that Naomi Campbell wore to her community service, while simultaneously mourning the huge swaths of your brain that are exclusively committed to retaining celebrity gossip from the mid to late aughts.
Luckily, the THNK 1994 museum is a safer space for obsessives. Started as a paean to Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and operating out of Matt and Viviana’s Williamsburg apartment, the Atlantic Avenue establishment maintains the spirit of a homebound hoarder. Perhaps the purest representation of this is the “lifelong work” of Lindsay Montgomery: a collection of binders meticulously documenting the lives, loves, and DUIs of stars like Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. These tabloid archives prove that, when it comes to these former child actors/proto-reality stars/accidental performance artists, the source material is rich enough to stand alone. Of course, if you’re looking to make a purchase at THNK 1994, hanging a huge print of Tyra Banks screaming at an ANTM contestant above your bed is probably more socially acceptable than showcasing a stack of tabloid binders on your bookshelves.
But “Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day BBQ” isn’t just an exciting new outlet for decade-old fangirling—it’s also full of wisdom. For an exhibit with only a few dozen works of art, the show manages to pack in a lot of lessons: never combine alcohol and antibiotics, don’t throw out your old Adderall pill bottles and, as Matt and Viviana concluded, “If you ever find yourself in a position where you are forced to wear an ankle monitor, do your best to make it fashion.”