Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen, curators and founders of the THNK1994 museum, Brooklyn’s beautifully demented shrine to pop culture, greet me at the entrance to their new gallery space like a preppier version of the Shining twins, sporting matching khaki pants, denim shirts, and delirious grins. They tell me they were up until 6 a.m. putting the finishing touches on their new exhibit, which opens Friday and which their outfits pay profound homage to: “Yama Kippi Yay Bo: A Celebration of Kim Cattrall, or more specifically, this YouTube clip.”
The clip, a cult classic pulled from Cattrall’s 2005 documentary Sexual Intelligence (yes, a real thing), features Cattrall clad in khaki and denim, performing sedate, self-serious spoken-word poetry about a “little dog’s day,” accompanied on the upright bass by her now ex-partner Mark Levinson. It is wholly bizarre and uncomfortable and gorgeous to behold; Olen and Harkins tell me they’ve watched it “approaching a thousand times.”
“It’s just, like, the realest thing we’ve ever seen,” explains Harkins. “This is Kim expressing herself, and there’s nothing about it that’s like, ‘I’m trying to be just like you.’ It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m no different than you, I hate exercise, too!’ No. It’s like, ‘This is what I do in my home. He plays an upright bass that is gigantic — we have that — and we don’t really talk to each other, I just shout spoken-word poetry while he is very silent and just taps on the upright bass.’” As Harkins talks, Olen laughs so hard she goes completely silent. “And it’s like, ‘And you are welcome, for getting to see this,’” she finally adds. “You just scream at it. It shakes ya.” Part of the video’s appeal is the idiosyncratic group of people who are equally obsessed with it. “It’s like there’s this world that you enter when you meet somebody who’s seen it,” says Harkins. “They’ll immediately be like, ‘Oh my god, Yama Kippi Yay Bo!’”
Harkins and Olen decided to build an entire exhibit around this 42-second piece of Cattrall ephemera earlier this year, as a follow-up to their previous exhibits, the similarly outlandish and hilarious niche-pop vortexes “Olsen Twins Hiding From the Paparazzi” and “The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum” (held in an abandoned doctor’s office and their apartment hallway, respectively). “In our hallway, we were showing this video to everybody who was having fun, because we loved it so much,” explains Harkins. “After the Olsen twin museum, we were on the subway, on the way to a gallery that had an open call for exhibits, and we had no idea what we were going to pitch. So we got there and were like, ‘… Yama Kippi Yay Bo, the Exhibit!’” Olen nods. “They never got back to us,” she says.
So the two — also best friends, roommates who literally share a room, and “counter girls” by night at a local pizza place — took matters into their own hands yet again, finding and renting a permanent gallery space in Bed-Stuy, where they plan to keep paying their singularly strange respects to pop culture for the foreseeable future (imminent exhibits include collaborations with Pop Culture Died in 2009 and a series of paintings titled “Real Housewives Pointing at You”). “Yama Kippi Yay Bo,” which is free and open to the public through June 3, is set up like an elegant living room, complete with a fake “art-deco fireplace” and a sitting area. “The main theme,” explains Olen, “is Kim Cattrall’s non-primary pied-à-terre.” The art itself — produced by artists and friends of THNK1994 from all over the country — ranges from paintings to video montages to gigantic knitted instruments, and goes far beyond the uncanny confines of the “Little Dog’s Day,” referencing Cattrall’s most iconic Sex and the City moments, her ’80s modeling days, and the time she calmly explained to a CBC news anchor that a teapot saved her life. “Kim is an ocean,” says Olen. “She contains multitudes.”
Both stress that the exhibit isn’t meant to mock Cattrall, but rather to celebrate her in the way that they think mainstream Hollywood never has. “It’s out of love. Every year, we start at the beginning of Sex and the City and go through the whole thing. It’s funny, because time’s gone by and it has its issues, but it’s still so fun to watch. It does cover almost every topic. It doesn’t cover it great sometimes,” Harkins laughs. “But Kim Cattrall is the best actress on that show, and I can’t think of any other actor that created a character like that, and the fact that she’s not a guest on every late-night show every other month is insane. She’s a fabulous actress, and a fabulous comedian. Tony Danza is on The Tonight Show, like, way more than her.” Olen stops him. “Is he … alive?” she asks. “He’s alive,” confirms Harkins.
Below is a guide to the best, most deranged, genius aspects of “Yama Kippi Yay Bo,” in Harkins’s and Olen’s own words.
Lila Freeman, “Hesitating Kim”
A series of paintings and charcoal drawings based on the “Yama Kippi Yay Bo” video, “Hesitating Kim” depicts “Kim hesitating — but you don’t — as you enter the room,” says Harkins. I ask what both think Kim is hesitating about. “She’s thinking [Mark Levinson] is not doing very well,” says Olen. “He’s dragging her down performance-wise a little bit. But she’s not gonna say anything. He’s not keeping up. There’s a camera crew there, he could be a little more personable, but it’s OK.”
The Mava, “Kim Cattrall and Shrinky Dinks”
These three shadow boxes, stuffed with some kind of grass (?) and very tiny Kim Cattralls, depict various iconic Cattrall scenes, including, as Harkins describes it, “that time in the Sex and the City movie when she’s in L.A., and she’s with Smith, but she’s not happy, so she’s just shopping all the time, and she comes back to New York, and they’re all like, ‘You’re a little fat.’” Both erupt in laughter. “She looks great,” adds Olen. “The Mava came into the Olsen twins exhibit. He’s very tall. He’s very mysterious. And he’s very cool. And then we followed each other on Instagram, and always wanted to work together, and he dropped this off for the exhibit, and there were actually six of these, but then a cat came and destroyed it,” says Olen. “Whose cat?” I ask. “I don’t know,” says Olen.
Video station, various clips from the Cattrall archive
“When we were making this TV, we wanted the channel to be a powerful number, so we made it 33,” says Olen. “Because that’s when Jesus died.” The videos that play on loop include a dramatic 90-second Architectural Digest tour of Cattrall’s “beautiful, art-deco home” (“I do love to cook, and I also love monkeys”) and an interview in which a deadly serious Cattrall explains how she almost boarded the Pan-Am 103 flight that crashed in Scotland in 1988 and killed everyone aboard. Cattrall skipped the flight at the last minute because “I had neglected to go to Harrod’s and buy my mother a teapot, and that teapot saved my life … It was a tragedy that was avoided by my mom’s teapot.”
Matt Harkins, “Art Deco Fireplace”
Harkins built this fake fireplace himself “out of boxes.” Its tiles reference Cattrall’s various Sex and the City sex scenes. “This is where she makes Bobby Cannavale drink his own cum,” he says. “This is the one where she dates the old guy and breaks up with him because of his flabby butt. Here’s small dick, dick too big, the priest — remember how she shows up to the church, and to flirt with him, she brings him two cans of beans for homeless people? Oh, and that’s where she looks up and sees Donald Trump.” Olen laughs. “Yes, so it’s very timely. All art is resistant art.”
Laura Collins, “Samantha Jones Bidding at Christie’s,” “Samantha Jones after a Chemical Peel,” and “Samantha Jones in a Sun Hat”; Heather Rohnert, “Yama Kippi Yay Bo Calligraphy”
“To fully enjoy this art, I’d like you to sit down,” says Olen. I sit in the chair facing the art-deco fireplace. Harkins steps in to describe each painting. “This is when Carrie has her book party and Samantha gets her chemical peel, and she doesn’t want to show, but she shows anyway, because she’s brave, and wears a veil over her face. I love it. It feels very French,” says Harkins. “Don’t you feel French?” asks Olen. Honestly, I do.
Harkins’s dearly departed grandmother, “Monkey candleholders”
“These are from my grandmother, who died recently. But this is what she would’ve wanted,” says Harkins. “His grandma was so cool. She was so glamorous. And Kim loves monkeys, so we brought these monkey candleholders,” adds Olen. “Why does she love monkeys?” I ask. “She doesn’t have to explain herself,” says Olen.
Tiny Stitchers Ashley Chavez and Caroline Cristal, “Hand-knit bass”
“This is a giant, knitted bass made by two girls I met at these parties for comedians, and they were there because their boyfriends were comedians. But I’d mainly sit down with them and just be like, ‘Hi,’” says Olen. “You can play it. I mean, very loosely.”
Derek Covington Smith, “Kim Cattrall as Rosie the Riveter”
“This is a brand-new artist we met through Instagram. He does this icon series, like Dolly Parton, and he made this, and it’s gorgeous. He wanted to do Rosie the Riveter because Kim does so many things for women and charities,” says Olen. Harkins chimes in: “I love the knuckles.” Olen sighs. “He’s trying to make it a fisting thing.”
Rosa Escandon, “Tarot Series inspired by Kim Cattrall”
“We met this girl, Rosa Escandon, because she bought our stump from our last exhibit online. How do you not become best friends after that?” says Olen. I ask for the story behind the crystal sitting next to the deck. “Damien Echols gave me this,” says Olen, then dissolves into laughter for a full minute. “Three years ago, I was going through a weird time, and I saw on Twitter he was giving tarot readings at a tattoo shop. I was like, ‘I need this.’ He gave me a fabulous reading. The advice he gave me was like, ‘Don’t put your hand in too many buckets.’ And then he was like, ‘You know, for me, when I was on death row …’ Anyway, I kept it in my bra for a year.”
Before I leave, Harkins and Olen invite me to a series of Cattrall-tangential ticketed events they’re hosting in the space over the next few weeks, including a “Slamantha Jones Poetry and Fan Fiction Evening Brunchette”; a “Whitney (Houston) Biennial,” wherein East Village artist Duke Todd will present a montage of bizarre, deep-cut YouTube clips, like Lauren Bacall over-enunciating her way through a 1970s coffee commercial; and a Britney Spears panel discussion. “Kim and Britney were in Crossroads together. It’s a heartbreaking scene. Kim’s like, ‘I don’t want you,’ and then they keep driving. There’s no closure,” says Harkins. “Kim doesn’t need closure,” says Olen.
I ask if they’ve extended invites or had any actual communication with the monkey-lovin’ poetess herself. “We’d like to say, ‘Kim, you are invited.’ We tweeted an invite at her, and she hasn’t responded. She doesn’t owe us anything and we don’t want her to feel obligated. But she did follow us on Twitter after our ‘PA-PING’ commemorative plate came out,” says Olen. “We DM’ed her and were like, ‘We’re such big fans,’ and she did not respond. We’ve been tagging her in things, but we’re starting slow. We don’t like to be aggressive.” I ask what would happen if Cattrall did, in fact, show up at the exhibit. “If she showed up, I’d clear out the room, and be like, ‘Get out,’” says Olen solemnly. “‘Kim’s here.’”
“Yama Kippi Yay Bo: The Exhibit” is open at 1436 Atlantic Avenue on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment during the week (email firstname.lastname@example.org).