We've already established on this very website that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen hate being famous. To the Olsen twins, fame is a drug, except it's the sort of drug that somebody slips into your food against your will for the entire duration of your youth. Even so — or, more likely, as a direct result of this — the Olsens cannot stop getting more famous. Their first Instagram selfie, despite being #sponsored by Sephora and featuring smiles stretched thinner than the plot of Holiday in the Sun, drew the sort of foaming-at-the-mouth media coverage that Jessica Lowndes only dreams about. A recent New York Times piece went long on the strangely opaque social-media presence of the twins' fashion line, The Row. And now, as of this past weekend, there's a Kickstarter-funded pop-up exhibit focused on the twins' celebrity and their considerable hatred thereof.
Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen — UCB alums, roommates, collaborators, best friends, and boxed-wine savants who met at a party during a "dark period" in both of their lives, when Olen was "living in Long Island City on a couch with my ex-boyfriend's best friend's ex-girlfriend who had real bad cats" — came up with the idea for the Olsen Twins Hiding from the Paparazzi exhibit after stumbling upon artist Laura Collins's paintings of, well, the Olsen twins hiding from the paparazzi. Collins, who'd submitted artwork for Harkins and Olen's previous Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan–themed museum, had originally planned to paint a series of pieces depicting multiple celebrities hiding in plain sight, but soon realized that the Olsen twins' reactions to photographers were by far the starkest and most disturbing.
I visited the exhibit (which ends May 1, so run, do not walk) on its opening night in its rightful home: Brooklyn. More specifically, an abandoned doctor's office in Brooklyn, where biohazardous blood bags have been stuffed haphazardly into a closet to make way for eight rooms of Olsen-related and Olsen-adjacent content, plus a schedule of events that includes Real Housewives' symposia, film screenings, fan fiction readings, and Past Life Regression seminars ("a step-by-step guide on how to meditate into a past life"). I had finally found my people. Here was a man earnestly explaining his dedication to Mary-Kate: "We all relate to Mary-Kate because she is a mess. If I was a celebrity, I'd be her." Here was a woman complaining that Mary-Kate looked "too healthy" on the cover of Harper's Bazaar to be accurately identified. "This isn't her," she announced loudly to no one. "I love that they still smoke," said another woman, who agreed with me that the Olsen twins' staunch devotion to publicly smoking in a post-smoking world is indicative of their general lack of fucks.
Below is our handy guide to the museum, which you can either spend 15 minutes or 15 hours in, depending how devoted you are to flipping through three-ring binders stuffed with Olsen twins memorabilia.
Upon entering the museum, your first sight will be a long, thin hallway filled with Collins's paintings. The hallway is jungle-themed — don't worry too much about why. Each painting is breathtaking in its scope and vision. In one, a twin hides behind the other twin, who's hiding behind a wall (it's not made clear who is who, but it is made clear that this does not matter).
In another, a twin hides behind a pack of cigarettes — an important throughline in the exhibit.
Yet another shows a twin burying herself beneath her own sleeve. All are for sale for an average of $700, which is approximately how much it costs to be an Olsen twin for 20 minutes.
"All museums have cafés, so that's why we made this room," explained Harkins of the Cupka'ak Bar. The room is, essentially, just a table of cupcakes emblazoned with Collins's artwork, prepared by Chef Kareem Youngblood. The cupcakes are ... for sale? Or perhaps free. It's unclear. "Whatever the law is, we're following it," said Olen. I didn't eat a cupcake because I was holding a glass of wine in one hand and my recorder in the other.
The Kylie Jenner Selfie Station
Kylie Jenner, whose entire life is diametrically opposed to that of the Olsens, is something of a trope in the Olsen Twins Hiding from the Paparazzi Museum, which, as Olen explained, is concerned with all facets of fame, from Housewives to Hermit Twins. Inspired by Laura's painting of "Kylie Jenner mid-wink" (see below), the Kylie Jenner Selfie Station is a room filled with massive props with which to take selfies, including a BlackBerry and a Birkin bag. A monstrously sized Starbucks cup from Austin, Texas, is on the way. "We wanted large things you could hide behind because that makes you look really skinny, and that's important to us," said Olen.
The Lisa Vanderpump Confessional Stump
The concept of this room is simple but diabolically brilliant: One sits on an actual tree stump, faces an iPad, and records oneself confessing all manner of sins to THNK1994's Snapchat account, where said confession will immediately be posted for all the world to see. Vanderpump's appearance is explained by Olen as follows: "The Housewives are our football. All roads lead to Housewives." Why the stump, though? "Here's the story about the fucking stump," said Olen. "We had this joke about a Lisa Vanderpump confessional stump because we had some wood-grain contact paper from the dollar store. But a few weeks ago, Matt was implying that it'd be really fucking easy to get an [actual] stump. Matt's very particular — he wants to make it so nice, and I'm very much more, 'No, whatever, we'll just say it's nice and people will believe us.' He became very obsessed the last few days with finding a tree stump." Harkins finally found the stump thanks to Vivianna's stepbrother, who "had a farm and drove up this stump."
The Sanctuary, Olen's favorite room, centers around a painting by artist Lindsay Montgomery titled King Kylie and Her Pastel Lollipop Spectacle. It purports to be a painting of Kylie Jenner's "aura."
In the back of the room there's a Meditation Chamber featuring a tiny sink ("We had to do something with the sink in here") and remote-controlled candles (very calming, both). There's also a painting from artist Randy Glance, which Olen explained is the "boy interpretation" of the Olsen-twins-hiding theme. Appropriately, it features furious dinosaurs, "because boys like dinosaurs," said Olen.
The Hidden Archives
This room, more so than any other, is simultaneously terrifying and beautiful. Set up to resemble ("resemble") the office of SVU detective Dominick Carisi, the archives are brimming with binders and bulletin boards containing thousands of vintage newspaper and magazine clips from the Olsen twins' early years (all apparently pulled from Montgomery's personal collection). One particularly dark tabloid piece reads, "At age 5, the twins are developing individual looks. By age 6 — and that's in June — one is likely to go." On one mounted bulletin board, the Olsens' filmography is dissected piece by piece, Homeland-style, in an attempt to solve the mystery of ... who they murdered? Again, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's incredible.
Mary-Kate's Wedding Room Interior
Mary-Kate Olsen's wedding to Olivier Sarkozy is my personal muse, the very reason I was born. Fortunately, Olen and Harkins agree. This room is entirely dedicated to a reimagining of their fiercely private wedding, right down to the "bowls and bowls" of cigarettes that were reportedly present. It is a gothic, elegant, French, Lynchian bat mitzvah party. It is my new home. Come visit me there. Buy me a golden cigarette (they are $20).
When a Stranger Calls
"We call this the hellscape phone," explained Olen of When a Stranger Calls, which features a house phone that occasionally rings and, when picked up, asks you if you'd like to star on Fuller House. The correct answer, according to the Olsens, is no, but Olen told me that everyone is saying yes because everyone is thirsty. I informed her that I saw several people abusing the exhibit by calling their ex-boyfriends from the phone in an attempt to fuck with them; as I stood in front of it, one of them called back, incredibly confused. "Who is this?" asked the ex. "Candace Cameron Bure," I replied. "That's gonna get so fucking fun," said Olen gleefully. "That's a new art thing. Arrrrrrt!"
I left the Olsen museum both ashamed of and thrilled by what I'd just done and experienced — which, according to Olen, is exactly the point. "When I was seven years old, I was a big Mary-Kate and Ashley fan, and I went to see them at a theme park," she said. "I waited for three hours, and when I finally walked by them, they were so sad, so tired. I immediately felt like, 'I'm bad. I'm bad.' That's what's so great about these paintings. They make you feel bad, too."