Almost Famous

The Divas: From left, Lena Dunham, Isabel Halley, and Joana D'Avillez. Hair and makeup by Kerrie Urban for ArtistsbyTimothyPriano.comPhoto: Nigel Parry/CPI

When we first meet the title characters of Index magazine’s wry satirical web series “Delusional Downtown Divas,” they’re trying to decide what clothes aspiring novelist Oona should wear at a gallery opening to impress a feminist art collective. “I think that by wearing a banana shirt, you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m the one with the penis,’ ” says AgNess, the self-proclaimed businesswoman of the bunch. Swann, a “private performance artist” (she basically emotes into a corner), objects: “You know I’m allergic to bananas, metaphorically.” In the end, the DDDs decide to do an emergency rethink of the outfit, though it winds up doing little to aid the trio’s strained and hapless networking efforts at the opening. As Lena Dunham—co-creator, director, writer, actor (she plays Oona), and producer—explains, “The title ‘Delusional Downtown Divas’ lays it all out there.”

Dunham and best friends Sara Rossein (editor), Joana D’Avillez (Swann), and Isabel Halley (AgNess; Halley is the daughter of artist and Index publisher Peter Halley) initially conceived the series as a fun little experiment to skewer the New York art scene they’d grown up in and had recently rejoined. Their characters are desperate to be famous, and utterly clueless about what that takes. (Comparisons to Absolutely Fabulous are welcome.) “It’s just a thing we put on the Internet that we thought a very small segment of the population would see,” Dunham says. Though the segment of the population that has seen it is still very small, it happens to contain some very influential people—including Yvonne Force Villareal, who displayed the first episode as installation art in her APF Lab gallery; Isaac Mizrahi, who plays life coach to the girls when their gay friend Jazzy disappears; hunky conceptual artist (and Mary-Kate Olsen’s boyfriend) Nate Lowman, who plays the object of Oona’s misguided affection; and painter Deborah Kass, who is simply a fan. After seeing the episode in which the DDDs try to get into the Beatrice Inn (inspired by Halley’s own spectacularly failed attempt to do so), conceptual artist Rob Pruitt invited them to host his Art Awards event at the Guggenheim Museum in October. Thanks to Guggenheim support, they’re now shooting new episodes—with proper light and sound this time—and a promo spot for Taxi TV, which, says Rossein, “was, like, my ultimate life goal.”

The positive response is likely due to the show’s sophisticated, knowing commentary. The three twentysomething stars grew up in Tribeca, and were all dragged to gallery openings by their artist parents. The art world they’ve experienced as adults, though, is very different from their parents’—fashion and celebrity often superseding the actual work. “Now you have people who are like, Yeah, I’m going to be in a band, but if that doesn’t work out, I’m probably going to make my living as a painter,” Dunham says. “There’s this illusion all of a sudden that it’s this financially viable industry to enter into, whereas it used to be that if you decided to be an artist, you were basically deciding to live in an attic and get TB and die.”

So they felt that someone needed to chronicle the comedy of the current scene, and it might as well be them. They pooled their money from babysitting and art-assistant gigs, borrowed some camera gear, and found a forum, albeit unpaid, at Index. (“You can make an announcement—we’re looking for paying gigs,” Dunham says. “We’ll do weddings, bat mitzvahs.”) Most of the filming, they say, has been “renegade,” like when D’Avillez and Rossein funded their own trip to Miami for Art Basel, then realized they didn’t have clearance to shoot and had to beg two official cameramen to lend them equipment for ten minutes. Yet, setbacks aside, it seems that in the process of making fun of young people trying to penetrate the art world, the girls behind the DDDs have done exactly that. “The characters are definitely versions of us,” Dunham says. But, adds Halley, “with much bigger delusions of grandeur.”

Almost Famous