Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two comedians have decided to open a museum dedicated to Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Let’s be clear: The word “museum” shall be employed in the most generous sense possible, seeing as the exhibition space is a four-foot-wide hallway of a rented third-floor walk-up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
And you thought you wanted a walking tour of Hannah Horvath’s living quarters. Pffffft. Isn’t this better?
Matt Harkins, 27, and Viviana Rosales Olen, 28, are friends who met at the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch comedy theater. They’re also roommates — and the brains behind Matt & Viviana’s Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum.
They say the museum they’re now working hard to open isn’t a joke. Performance art maybe, but not a joke.
“It is going to be the best hallway museum ever,” Olen said.
Harkins is a museum tour guide — he said his day job is very supportive of the Harding-Kerrigan museum — and Olen works at a hotel front desk and keeps unconventional hours.
They got the idea to create a museum after watching “30 for 30: The Price of Gold” on Netflix together. It’s a documentary about Harding’s involvement with the 1994 knee-whacking attack on Nancy Kerrigan that suddenly turned figure skating into a sport that had the entire country riveted.
“Like all great things in America today, it did start with a Netflix documentary and snacks,” Olen said. “We were sitting in Matt’s bed, and we just got super, super-excited about it.”
So with that, Harkins and Olen decided to create a Kickstarter campaign to fund the museum’s creation. They asked for $75 to use Duane Reade’s photo enlarging service to make Kerrigan and Harding posters.
— Matt and Viviana (@MattandViviana) February 26, 2015
Before they knew it, what started as a lark grew into a full-fledged project. “Offhand we kind of joked, ‘Oh, we need to put stuff on our walls. Why don’t we put pictures of Tonya and Nancy? That would be adorable,'” Olen said.
Now their days have been spent chasing down memorabilia on eBay and collecting an oral history from Lois Elfman, a journalist who covered Kerrigan and Harding in 1994. An artist contributed a diorama tribute to Harding’s triple axel. Harding is one of five women who have landed a triple axel in international competition, and the first woman to land two in one performance. And then there are tweets, already primed for archives by the Library of Congress, that have been immortalized as glitter art:
As of Tuesday night, 109 backers pledged $1,469 to the museum, which is about as small and artisanal as museums come: It’s appointment-only, two visitors at a time, and Harkins and Olen plan to require some sort of Internet verification so they’re not inviting serial killers into the space that also doubles as their home.
So, no elementary school groups then.
There’s no admission fee, but Olen said there would be a box for donations, plus T-shirts and buttons:
— Matt and Viviana (@MattandViviana) March 2, 2015
Harkins and Olen are intrepid, big-thinking dreamers who refuse to be confined by silly things like zoning, or neighbors, or landlords. “The neighbors have a dog party every day, and have puppies over and they bark all day,” Olen said. She figured a two-person museum would be relatively tame. “We have two people over. That’s just like having friends over. That’s what social people do. I think they can’t be mad about it.”
They’ve painted the walls black, they’re buying display cases for wax figures and other three-dimensional art, and they plan to use the home of Harkins’s family for overflow storage should they need it — their apartment doesn’t have any closets. Harkins and Olen are throwing an opening gala offsite, at Standard Toykraft theater, on April 18.
“If we’re making fun of anything, we’re making fun of ourselves,” Olen said. “We’re coming into this with the utmost respect. We’re not really focusing on the attack. We want to focus on these athletes, and the culture of reaction and gender stereotypes and how this defined so much of 1994 and so much of our consciousness.”
“If you just kind of have a vague memory of it, you just forget that they were next level athletes doing things that were absolutely insane and looking great doing it, too,” Harkins said. Chiming in to agree, Olen added, “We get tired climbing the stairs.”
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