Published November 17, 2014
Call it inspiration, call it opportunism — as long as you call it art.
Like business bosses and tourism chiefs hoping for a royal-wedding boost, artists are using the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton as fodder for their work.
A group of art students have posed in front of Buckingham Palace all dressed as Kate, a street artist has given Middleton a punk makeover, and a show by American artist Jennifer Rubell that opens Tuesday features a life-size wax model of William, and invites visitors to slip an arm through his and briefly live out dreams of becoming a princess.
Rubell, a 40-year-old New Yorker best known for large-scale installations involving food, said that as soon as she heard news of the engagement in November, she knew she would use the event and its imagery in her work.
"I also had the reaction that any woman has, whether you want to admit it to yourself or not: 'What if that were me?'
"My first instinct is to be dismissive and judgmental, to think less of myself for wishing it were me for a second," Rubell said. "This piece is all about choosing to validate that emotion and live out that emotion and that fantasy, rather than getting your feminist hackles up."
The April 29 marriage of the second in line to the throne and his stylish commoner fiancee has stirred complex emotions in Britain. Reactions range from pleasure at the prospect of a glittering Westminster Abbey ceremony — and an accompanying public holiday — to unease at the expense and the traditionalist symbolism of the event.
That ambiguity — and the sheer A-list star power of the couple — make the wedding natural material for artists.
Also on display in London is a picture by 38-year-old street artist Zoobs that shows Middleton in the style of the poster for the Sex Pistols' landmark punk track "God Save the Queen."
That image, shocking to some when it was released in 1977, depicted Queen Elizabeth II with her eyes and mouth covered by ransom note-style letters spelling the names of the band and the song, which opened with Johnny Rotten snarling "God Save the Queen, the fascist regime."
The new picture is less political. It shows a paint-splattered Middleton with short hair and a tiara against a Union Jack and the words "God save the future queen."
London's Opera Gallery, where the piece is on show, said Zoobs — real name Zoran Zarre — sees Kate "as a new fashionista" in the mold of the late Princess Diana.
Other artistic reactions to the engagement are simply playful. Last month, 13 students from the Royal College of Art dressed as Middleton and gathered outside the gates of Buckingham Palace to mark 100 days until the wedding.
Bemused tourists snapped the students, clad in cheap chain-store copies of the blue dress Middleton wore for the engagement announcement, along with replicas of her diamond and sapphire ring.
That ring — the same one William's father, Prince Charles, gave his fiancee Lady Diana Spencer 30 years ago — also features in Rubell's piece, "Engagement." It sits on the arm of the waxwork William, and visitors can sidle up, put on the ring, and assume Middleton's position in the couple's official engagement portrait.
Rubell's exhibition at London's Stephen Friedman Gallery also includes a series of "drinking paintings," complete with spigots dispensing Irish whiskey, sloe gin and other beverages associated with the British Empire. She says "Engagement" is neither a critique nor a celebration of the monarchy.
"For me, they are living people occupying an iconic role," she said. "It's about the Prince Charming fantasy, and there happens to be this living person who embodies this fantasy and a woman who is living it."
As for suggestions that the work is opportunistically timed to generate publicity for her work, Rubell won't argue.
"It's completely opportunistic," she said.
"Being opportunistic does not necessarily have negative connotations. Andy Warhol was the most opportunistic artist who ever lived."All artists make work which deals with the issues they are interested in."
Stephen Friedman Gallery: http://www.stephenfriedman.com
Opera Gallery: http://www.operagallery.com/