Conversely, her friend Simon de Pury, chairman of art-auction house Phillips de Pury & Company, is happy to assert her place in the art world. “Jennifer breaks down boundaries. No one should box her in to food. She’s an artist, whatever medium she uses.” She planned a party celebrating his wedding last year.
But while she’s a masterful hands-on cook, her art is outsourced. “I was never interested in the hand of the artist,” she explains. Like many artists, she provides the idea and the specs, and a craftsperson executes the work. Rubell is aware of how that may strike people. “That’s been true since the Renaissance,” she says professorially, not defensively. “Artists have had factories for a really long time.”
Her first solo show, “Engagement,” at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London in February, addressed the issue of authorship while seizing upon an iconic moment in the making. The show featured a life-size wax-and-fiberglass sculpture of Prince William, made by sculptor Daniel Druet, with a replica of Kate Middleton’s diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring affixed to his forearm. Visitors were invited to step up next to the prince, slip their finger through the rock, and imagine the distinctly un-feminist thrill of being betrothed to royalty.
“I think we all grew up inside of feminism, feeling that not being okay. But the first time I slipped my finger through that ring, I felt giddy. It feels like, ‘Fuck you, I do want this,’ ” she says. Druet was credited with fabricating the statue, she explains, but “interaction is the thing that makes it a piece by me. And,” she says, laughing, “it was heavily interacted with.”
The show attracted international attention, including spots on morning talk shows here, where Rubell had the opportunity to discuss interactive art. But being largely under the critical radar so far has, she admits, been “a tremendous luxury, like being in art school, except being public.” That will likely change soon: This fall, starting in September, Rubell’s work will appear in five shows around the world, at Cal State–Fullerton; Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland; Perry Rubenstein Gallery in L.A.; Dallas Contemporary; and Performa 11 here in New York. She has been working with beekeepers on a series of honey paintings created by 50,000 bees. Another project is inspired by Studio 54’s drink tickets. In a way, her work can be seen as a valentine to Uncle Steve, the man she calls her “second father,” who did everything at Studio 54 “in order to have this ephemeral magical moment.” The club, to her mind, was “one of the great performance pieces that ever existed.”