“Does anybody know how to work a projector?” shouts Viviana Olen over a PBR-saturated room of about 100, mostly millennials with a sprinkling of Gen X–ers. Matt Harkins fiddles with the open MacBook. This is Williamsburg, rooftop film capital of the U.S.A. Somebody knows how to work a projector. The show goes on.
That was pretty much how the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum Gala unfolded Saturday night. Olen and Harkins, the founders/curators/guides/live-in custodians of the highly publicized museum and the event’s hosts, were a bit harried throughout the variety hour but charismatic enough to carry the crowd.
After trudging to the third floor of Metropolitan Avenue’s gritty-but-pretty Standard Toykraft art space, guests were greeted at the door with a platter of truly spectacular cupcakes and 1994-themed goodie bags. The latter contained Tonya Harding glamor shots, Nancy Kerrigan trading cards, “Team Tonya” and “Team Nancy” pins, tea light candles (“mini Olympic torches”), and crayons (“for how this scandal was colored by the press”).
Olen and Harkins drew inspiration from the attack and subsequent media circus associated with the U.S. women’s figure skating team at the 1994 Olympics — if you can call a hired hit man attempting to break a teammate’s leg “inspiring.”
But for the entrepreneurial roommates, it was more about Kerrigan and Harding themselves. The Kickstarter-funded “museum,” constructed in the hallway of their Williamsburg apartment, aims to illuminate both sides of the story with artifacts and art pieces that they’ve collected from across the country. Miniature models from Los Angeles and impressive needlepoint portraits out of Aurora, Colorado, line the walls.
The evening focused on those same equitable intentions, with Harkins defending Nancy — “a quiet badass” — and Olen making the case for Tonya’s mutual victimization in a comedic TED-style talk, complete with a guided video tour of the museum.
What came next was the performance equivalent of a talent show at a private art school for gifted — but possibly socially stunted — teens. This is to say it was haphazard, clever, and very, very fun.
Danielle Gibson and Alexandra Fiber, as the leotard-clad a cappella duo SRSLY, sang “I Gotta Have Skates,” a brilliant spoof of George Michael’s “Faith,” and Zackary Grady — who wrote Toe Pick, a gender-bending stag re-creation of the Harding-Kerrigan saga — interpreted television journalist Connie Chung’s now-infamous 1994 interview with Harding. Meanwhile, an energetic piece by I Am a Boys Choir, called “Or How I Became an Ice Princess,” can only be described as hypnotic trampoline aerobics set to music.
Most fascinating was a story by Lynn Harris, who admitted, “Yes, I was part of the problem” while speaking about her reluctant early-Nineties career as a Tonya Harding look-alike. Harris is a dead ringer for a redheaded Harding if Harding had made all the right decisions, and her story was set to illuminate the strange authority placed on impersonators. “People thought because I looked like Tonya I had superior expertise,” she reminisced about having played Harding in a TV re-enactment of the trial. “Total strangers would come up to me and ask, ‘So, do you think she should go to Lillehammer?’ or ‘Do you believe she was in on the attack?’….As it turned out, I had a big-ass soap box.”
The night wound down with an era-appropriate DJ set from 1994, during which figure-skating enthusiasts like Olivia Ascione and Ava Ulmer, who arrived wearing replicas of the skaters’ Olympic outfits, danced and posed for pictures.
At best written off as a super-successful publicity stunt, and at worst ridiculed as the product of hipsters with too much time and money, the 1994 Museum has, oddly enough, accrued a tiny fraction of the media hype that blew the original scandal out of proportion. But like Tonya’s famed triple axel, it’s all about the spin. And Saturday’s “gala” was still one of the most original parties Brooklyn has cooked up this year.
Additional photos of the museum on page 2.[