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02.08.11

How to Marry Prince William

A new art exhibition in London invites the public to get up close and personal with a wax version of the engaged royal. Rachel Wolff talks to artist Jennifer Rubell about her tabloid inspiration.

Marrying Prince William has always been the stuff of fairytales, but swooning young girls probably never imagined him as quite this immobile.

However, now is the chance to sidle up to the newly engaged royal—or at least a faux version of him. A Madame Tussauds-worthy wax sculpture of Princess Diana’s oldest son is the centerpiece of Jennifer Rubell’s new art exhibition Engagment at London’s Stephen Friedman gallery. Visitors are invited to slip on a knock-off of Kate Middleton’s sapphire-and-diamond stunner and hook their arm through the prince’s, thereby assuming the soon-to-be-princess’ stance.

Gallery: Jennifer Rubell’s Engagement

Rubell, a New York-based installation artist, was inspired by the wall-to-wall coverage of the engagement. “I was on a flight from New York to Miami reading Us magazine,” Rubell says. “It was the week they had gotten engaged and this was this story about them with their official engagement photo. I just kept looking at that photo—it’s so striking how he’s occupying his own space and how she’s holding onto him. I couldn’t get that image out of my head. It’s that Cinderella/Prince Charming fantasy. You can’t help but think of yourself in Kate’s role.”

The nuptials are a fitting subject for Rubell’s U.K. solo debut, running from February 8 through March 5. “Everything I do is interactive,” Rubell explains. “And this is about trying to figure out a way to interact with that story. The ring, for me, is the location of interaction. It’s the center of the photograph and it’s also the location of the connection to William and his family.”

In one sense the piece marks a new direction for Rubell, whose previous work gravitates toward the edible. Her installations have included a cell-like room padded with 1,600 cones worth of pink cotton candy; a freestanding 60-foot white wall studded with 1,521 old-fashioned doughnuts; a series of sculptural self-portraits made out of solid fontina cheese, hanging from the ceiling and melting onto stacks of crackers below; and a massive piñata in the shape of Andy Warhol’s head. It’s a fitting medium given the many years Rubell spent as a food writer. But cutting-edge contemporary art is in her blood. Rubell grew up utterly immersed in the stuff: her parents are the notoriously adventurous Miami art collectors Don and Mera Rubell. The way she sees it, it just took her some time to develop the right approach.

More Art, Photography & Design on Art Beast“Growing up in a family of art collectors, art occupied a particular role in my psychology, one that was both very positive and very negative,” she says. “Part of growing up surrounded by art is constantly being told you can’t interact with it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t even really have an opinion about it when you’re among people who know more than you do. It’s really about this process of distancing yourself from the object, and I’m interested in reversing that kind of engagement.”

Participation is thus the most pervasive thread in Rubell’s work. In addition to her waxy Prince William, Rubell will also show a new series of Drinking Paintings in London. The unprimed white canvases mirror famed painted royal portraits in size. They are rigged with spigots that serve up various types of U.K.-favored booze (think gin, Irish whiskey, and Madeira wine). It’s a fun send-up of the staid wine-and-cheese art opening, not to mention an enticing gimmick that’s sure to pack in young and thirsty art aficionados. But is Rubell worried about offending her new British audience by taking on two of their most beloved public figures?

“In a way, Americans are more interested in the royal family than British people,” Rubell says. “I may be using something that is happening in the U.K. right now, but the subject here is almost a universal fairytale. So far it hasn’t been offensive to anyone—maybe it will be when certain people pose with it, but that’s not my doing. The most interesting part of it to me is that in art history there has always been this problem of the depiction of women. I wanted to create something where I’m not even selecting which woman is portrayed and I’m not determining what her interaction is. The prompt is to slip your finger through the ring, but of course that’s not what you have to do.”

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Rachel Wolff is a Brooklyn-based critic, writer, and editor. She covers art for New York Magazine, Town & Country, Bloomberg Businessweek, Art + Auction, Modern Painters, Chicago Magazine, and various Modern Luxury publications.