This Artist Pulls Back Curtain on Celeb Privacy with Paintings of Olsen Twins Pap Shots
It all started with a Birkin bag. Or was it a Fendi? Chicago-based artist Laura Collins can't remember — she cops to shopping at Kohl's, and says a team of seasoned detectives couldn't unearth her fashion sense. Either way, there was an Olsen twin hiding behind it to avoid paparazzi. Isn't that type of image kind of funny and telling? While the moment might have been better suited for GIF- or meme-treatment, Collins decided to reduce it to art at its most traditional: an acrylic painting on paneling.
And then she did it dozens of times over: An Olsen twin hiding behind her passport with dark, moody brushwork. An Olsen twin hiding behind her right hand in front of a trellis fence. An Olsen twin hiding behind an Olsen twin hiding behind a wall. None were conceived out of malice, Collins says, and this wasn't all for the sake of spectacle. Conversely, and to put it starkly, there is nothing more humanizing than seeing a celebrity suddenly thrust out of sorts.
The Olsen Twins Hiding From The Paparazzi, which opens today (April 22) after a successful Kickstarter campaign organized by Brooklyn's The THNK1994 Museum, has collected some of Collins' most memorable pieces and arranged them in a hollowed-out doctors office in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. The pieces, beautiful renderings of magazines' most predatory work, collectively look like cases for a new witness protection program class, but Collins can't help but find the enduring intrigue surrounding Mary-Kate and Ashley fascinating.
"I love seeing those photographs in like the tabloids — I think they have little sections that are called ‘Peekaboo With Celebrities’ or whatever, and I was like ‘Why do we value these photos enough to publish them?’" she told PopCrush. "You can’t even tell who it is half the time. You can’t see any part of their face. So I thought that would be a funny painting if it was like the one thing you want to see is obscured. I think it’s just funny to see so many people hiding at one time."
Funny and enlightening. Collins said the exhibit's overwhelming response from press (the exhibit's now featured in W, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar) has been uniquely terrifying, giving her new appreciation for the type of attention you can't possibly plan for.
"Today has been really overwhelming for me because I’m shy and super socially awkward and slow to warm up,” she said. “I’m kind of like my paintings: This is me speaking…I’ve always connected with not wanting to be watched — that discomfort that comes from being judged or scrutinized."
Thankfully, she's got the company of other artists — including THNK1994's Matt Harkins and Viviana Rosales Olen — for support. Collins' works, which amass down a darkened hallway decorated by synthetic green leaves that Harkins created and arranged, are punctuated by a series of themed rooms that speak to the culture of celebrity-fascination. One, decorated to look like a reality show's confessional booth, includes an image of Lisa Vanderpump of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and encourages visitors to air their grievances via Snapchat. Another features a giant purse and Blackberry that make for perfect shields from shutterbugs, with which which patrons are encouraged to pose at a custom Kylie Jenner Selfie Station.
There's also a phone placed atop an image of the Olsen twins' former Full House co-star Candace Cameron Bure that will ring at some point during the exhibit. A voice will ask whomever answers if he or she is interested in a role on Fuller House, Netflix's new revival series.
This is all to say that fame is a strange, winding spectrum — some people crave it and others are forced to begrudgingly accept it, Rosales Olen told PopCrush. Still, she notes the dial is slowly inching toward one pole over the other.
"Everybody’s entitled to a certain amount of privacy but I think we’re just getting closer and closer to not wanting any," she said.
Rosales Olen said she remembers going to a Mary-Kate and Ashley meet and greet when she was kid and seeing the typically glamorized idea of fame thrust under a new, damning light. The twins were miserable, tired-looking and sad, she recalled, and said the fact that they're still tabloid fodder years after rejecting celebrity identities speaks volumes about American culture.
When she and Harkins spotted Collins' first Olsen-piece on Instagram, they knew they had to jump on it, and were delighted to find it was just one of many.
"Our minds were blown," Harkins said. "We were like: 'These should be in a museum, they’re iconic.’ And then we realized we had one."
The roommates and comedians, who previously hosted an exhibit in honor of ice skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan (and the media frenzy that surrounded an attack on Kerrigan in 1994), said they appreciate any chance to host new artists and make the idea of a museum more accessible.
"Art can be very intimidating and you can feel like ‘Oh, I don’t get it,’ but when it’s something like this, it’s something that you have an emotional reaction to usually because you grew up with [these celebrities]," Rosales Olen said. "Anything celebrity-related, there’s a reason we have a reaction to it — it’s important to us, and that’s okay.
"We want people to look at fan art in a different light," she added. "It comes with a lot of love and it has a lot of value and it’s absolutely legitimate."
The Olsen Twins Hiding From The Paparazzi is available to the public from noon until 5 PM through May 1 at 563 Grand Street.
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