Jennifer Rubell’s studio sits on a quiet corner where Brooklyn neighborhoods Greenpoint and Williamsburg meet. Its industrial grates and white metal siding appear no different than the commercial warehouse exteriors. Inside, though, is an unexpected house of wares—even by Brooklyn standards. Rubell, who in 2010 created “The Icons,” a twenty-foot-tall piñata in the shape of Andy Warhol’s head for The Brooklyn Ball, is overseeing several new projects that challenge the conventions of making art.
Rubell is the daughter of contemporary art collectors Don and Mera Rubell. She is also the niece of the late Steve Rubell—the storied co-owner of Studio 54. These relationships, as Rubell insists, have had a marked impact on her work. So too has Andy Warhol. In this intimate look at a new project and several pieces currently underway, the ghosts of the late, great Pop maestro are ever-present. “Above all,” says Rubell, “I want the studio to not be a zone of boundaries for myself.”
Works in Progress
The studio is a workshop where Rubell oversees the construction of her increasingly sculptural work. It is located on an industrial block between Greenpoint’s bustling Manhattan Avenue and Williamsburg’s ever-chic Wythe Hotel.
“Every project I work on involves different media, different time frames, and different people required to execute it,” Rubell says. “And often the things that are required are extremely specialized. It’s always a fight against the studio taking on a concrete form. The studio is as elastic as my practice.”
The Self Study
On the afternoon of our visit, Rubell was starting a new ongoing artwork she calls “The Painting Project.” The story: she will pose nude for a variety of contemporary painters in her studio over the next several months. Participating artists are required to sign an extensive contract at the onset of their involvement that gives Rubell the physical and intellectual rights to the paintings they make — as in if and when the pieces are shown in a gallery, they will all be “by Jennifer Rubell.”
More to Say
Rubell is using “The Painting Project” to explore issues of authorship and fabrication — “the process of them painting me is totally transparent,” she says — but also to explore “the reversal of the power dynamic between artists and subjects.”
Historically, a nude subject never held much sway over the (typically male) painter depicting her. “But being in this kind of submissive position while at the same time directing the project is a fundamental part of the conceit.”
The couch that Rubell is perched on here is an artwork too. Titled “My Shrink’s Couch,” the brown leather number is actually her shrink’s couch. “It took quite a bit of lobbying over time,” she says.
Breaking Down Nudes
Rubell is working on a series of pieces she calls “Nutcrackers” — sculptural takes on Internet-sourced mannequins that are retooled to crack nuts in between their legs. She has exhibited them at Dallas Contemporary and at last year’s inaugural edition of Frieze New York. Here, Rubell’s studio manager Jesse Stone tweaks the internal mechanism. “It’s an incredibly complex mechanical piece that looks like a simple nude,” she says.
Rubell is working on an additional self-portrait project called “Portrait of the Artist” — a 24-foot-long fiberglass sculpture of the artist when she was recently pregnant with her son. “I put myself in this risqué position on a pedestal and the surface of my body was scanned all around,” she says. “Then, digitally, we carved out the belly part and the whole thing was blown up large enough so an adult could crawl inside and rest there.” This is a small model of the piece — the final work is on pace to be completed by the end of summer.
“This Pissing Gnome” (pump his conical hat and beer squirts out of a pipe installed in his nether regions…) was part of a 2011 installation at the Fondation Beyeler museum in Basel, Switzerland, called “Landscapes.”
Two of Rubell’s “Drinking Paintings” from the Fondation Beyeler exhibition are installed in the studio as well. They were filled with wine from the region and are equally as functional as her pissing gnome. “It’s a series I began at the Brooklyn Museum for my project there called ‘The Icons,’” Rubell explains. “The original drinking paintings were this kind of joke about Jackson Pollock. They’re sort of reverse drip paintings.” Viewers were invited to grab a glass, open the paintings’ spigots, and imbibe.