Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Prince William has a new lady on his arm: a punky artist called Jennifer Rubell.
The grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, who is set to marry Kate Middleton on April 29, has his wax effigy in London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery. Kate’s spot is vacant, so anyone can slip a finger through the sapphire ring affixed to the prince’s suit-jacket sleeve.
On this cloudy morning, William’s temporary consort is Rubell, who created the work. With her punk-rock hairstyle and wax jeans, she could be the daughter of Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood.
“Found one of Kate’s hairs!” she jokes, as she lovingly brushes the prince’s lapels for the cameras.
New York-based Rubell is one of the first artists to react to the royal engagement. Daughter of Don and Mera Rubell -- who are among the world’s most influential contemporary-art collectors -- she knew Andy Warhol when she was a kid, was a studio assistant for Jeff Koons, and studied fine arts at Harvard University.
“I’ve been engaged three times and never married: It’s a subject that’s really interesting to me,” says Rubell, 40, who has a five-year-old daughter from one of the three ex-fiances.
Intrigued by the fairy-tale aspect of the royal engagement, she notes that even “strong, modern women” get “giddy and excited and a little bit girlish” wearing the ring.
“Doing a piece that validates that fantasy, that accepts it as a part of all women, was very important to me,” she says in an adjacent room containing her “drinking paintings” -- canvases with taps that pour celebratory cups of gin or Madeira.
Rubell knew so many artists growing up that she was initially scared to be one. She got into food -- cooking it, and writing about it.
Catering for family and friends, she created installations with Styrofoam cups, empanadas, or potatoes. Some wound up in places like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and London’s Saatchi Gallery (for auctioneer Simon de Pury’s wedding reception). Then she switched to non-edible work.
Isn’t the royal sculpture a publicity stunt? “Yeah, me and Warhol!” she says. “It’s absolutely a publicity stunt. But so was their engagement announcement.” The artist explains that her work, like Pop Art, involves “a provocative engagement with popular culture.”
Rubell has lots of Warhol stories. She apologizes for name dropping, then tells me one from a party thrown by designer Halston for guests including Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett.
“Andy’s there. He’s like, ‘Mohammed! Napkins!’” she recalls, emulating Warhol as he claps for Halston’s butler. The butler brings napkins, folded in eights, and magic markers.
“He does Farrah’s eye, he does Ryan’s nose,” she recalls. “When he gets to me, he says, ‘No, Jennifer, I want to do your whole face!’ He opens up the napkin and does a drawing of my whole face.” Rubell kept the napkin.
Rubell later worked in Koons’s studio at a time when Koons was making naked close-ups of himself and his then wife, the former porn actress Ilona Staller, or La Cicciolina.
“I’d come into work, and there’d be two slides on the screen,” she says. “And he’d say, ‘Do I look bigger in that one or that one?’ It was fantastic!”
Her job was to find sculptors willing to make his erotic pieces, after Italian artisans prudishly refused. She took Koons on a trip to New Orleans to meet Mardi Gras float makers.
Rubell calls herself a conceptual artist, and credits the waxwork’s maker in the William piece’s title: “Engagement (with Prince William sculpted by Daniel Druet).”
“Much of the art that is made today is made by other people,” she explains.
I ask if her last name helped her, and I get long pauses. “We can look at the number of collectors’ children who are artists, which is somewhere between zero and zero,” she begins.
“It’s hard to say. Of course it helped me,” she says. “But it’s not something that anybody gives to you, no matter who you know, no matter who you’re related to.”
What if she were Prince William’s fiancee? Her mother wonders the same, she says -- why he wouldn’t go for someone with her look.
“You need the straight people for you to punk out,” she concludes, skipping off to pose again beside the beaming prince.
“Jennifer Rubell: Engagement” ends March 5 at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington Street, London W1S 3AN.
Information: www.stephenfriedman.com or +44-20-7494-1434 or http://jenniferrubell.com/index.php?sec=projects
To contact the writer on this story: Farah Nayeri in London at Farahn@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at firstname.lastname@example.org.