Before Lena Dunham Was Famous, THESE Girls Meant Everything To Her

Photo By: Gregory Pace/BEImages/Rex USA
Lena Dunham has been killing it these past five years. She wrote and directed her feature film Tiny Furniture, created a buzzy TV show for HBO that’s now in its fifth season, and penned her essay collection, Not That Kind of Girl, in addition to several pieces for The New Yorker. Dunham turns 29 today, and on her birthday we’d like to revisit one of her earliest projects: a little web series called Delusional Downtown Divas.

Commissioned by Index Magazine, Delusional Downtown Divas launched in 2009 as a low-budget web series written and directed by — and also starring — Dunham and her friends Isabel Halley, Joana Avillez, and Sara Rossein. The show focused on three young women, who despite a noticeable lack of talent, attempt to make it in the art world. They tackle ridiculous internships, performance pieces, and gallery openings in an attempt to network their way up. It all leads to spectacularly comical results. There’s AgNess (Halley), who dubiously markets herself as a “businesswoman;” Oona (Dunham), a wannabe novelist; and Swann (Avillez), a performance artist with a captivated audience of...herself.

In the opening episode, as Oona is fretting over what to wear to impress a feminist art collective she hopes will “adopt” her, she tries on a multitude of banana-themed garments that the group thinks is a smart take on phallic imagery: “I think that by wearing a banana shirt, you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m the one with the penis.’” In another episode, a painter hires AgNess as an assistant. “Are these curly penises?” she asks the office manager guiding her around the studio. “No, these are trees,” the woman tells her. And yes, there is more to the humor than male anatomy. Case in point: When AgNess, still in the painter’s studio, is asked if she knows what Art Basel is, she cluelessly replies: “Oh I know ArtBase, Kid Pix, TextEdit…” 

Though it satirized the New York City art world (a world Dunham, the daughter of Laurie Simmons, knows well), Delusional Downtown Divas gained a cult following among some of the very folks it was poking fun at. Artist Rob Pruitt asked the three stars to host the 2009 Art Awards, and critics and artists like Linda Yablonsky, Nate Lowman, and Deborah Kass made appearances on the show. The Guggenheim even backed the second season, which featured the museum in an episode when the trio goes all “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by camping out in the rotunda
DDD may not be as sophisticated in its execution as Girls, but its art-school, low-fi feel is part of the charm. And, if you pay attention, you can see the groundwork for the arched-eyebrow take on this same topic that Dunham has now made a regular part of Girls, from the insufferably pretentious Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone), who makes Marnie stare at a creepy doll while he has sex with her, to the unbearably pretentious Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs) to last season’s loathsome Ace. Played by Zachary Quinto as the epitome of the douchebag bro artist who might be in the profession solely so he can take nude photos of women, Ace was met with extreme hatred from fans and critics. “People were very vocal about this character, calling him the worst character, a monster,” Quinto has said. “But, considering the fact that I’ve [played characters who have] skinned people alive…it really shows you how relative the hipster world is — that he’s a monster.”

Lena's first show was ahead of its time. It was smart. Fun. Its wit lives on in the artsy, earnest-to-a-fault characters who pop in and out of Girls. But, if Dunham ever wanted to turn her razor-sharp gaze back to the New York City art world full-time via a DDD revival, we’d be all for it. 

More from Movies


R29 Original Series