Written by Tammy La Gorce
Phil Pollack didn’t pretend he knew a lot about art when he took Jenn Loeb on a date to the Whitney Museum in 2017. She wasn’t much into art, either. Both remember feeling slightly mystified as they poked through galleries under the museum’s gridded ceilings.
“We were kind of looking at everything going, ‘What do you think all this means?’” Loeb said. Now what mystifies them is the volume of strangers who consider them artists. “Phil had trouble coloring in the lines in kindergarten. It’s crazy to think we made something that’s in a museum.”
Like a lot of couples, Loeb and Pollack felt a calling to create during the pandemic. But what they settled on creating took everyone who saw it by surprise: Since early 2020, Loeb and Pollack have been collaborating on a series of celebrity portraits made from Rubik’s Cubes. Their Alex Trebek piece is currently on display at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Loeb and Pollack, both 29, met on the dating app Hinge in November 2017. Their puzzle-solving prowess was nowhere to be found on their profiles. Instead, Loeb got curious when she saw Pollack’s picture, which showed him doing goat yoga.
Their first date, at the Churchill Tavern in Manhattan on Nov. 21, 2017, left both with the impression that the other was genuine and relatable. Pollack, then an investment banker at Credit Suisse, and Loeb, who was working as an associate director for the media buying agency Zenith, both grew up on Long Island.
After four months, they met each other’s families. At month five, when they had just started to think of themselves as a couple, their commitment deepened when Pollack moved to Morristown, New Jersey, for a job as a business strategies manager with the New York Jets football team. “It made things a little more complicated because we had to make much more of an effort to see each other,” Loeb said. “But it also made us realize we didn’t mind, that we were 100% in.”
If commuting in and out of Manhattan solidified their relationship, it got tedious anyway. After their first trip as a couple, to Costa Rica in February 2019, “we kind of realized we wanted to live together,” Pollack said. They aimed to find an apartment in New York that they could move into in the spring of 2020.
That plan disintegrated in March when the world was invaded by COVID. Their willingness to see each other only on weekends went by the wayside, too. “When New York shut down, I packed the kind of bag people take on a two-week vacation full of food and went to New Jersey,” Loeb said.
Though she brought only two pairs of leggings besides the contents of her pantry, she stayed in Morristown with Pollack for six months, telecommuting for work. “Phil gave me a few T-shirts. It was quarantine. We did a lot of laundry.”
And there was a lot of figuring out ways to pass the time, too. Loeb had never touched a Rubik’s Cube when she met Pollack. But to him, the toy felt like an old friend. When he was a child, his parents owned a timeshare near Orlando, Florida. “But they were never big flyers,” he said. So instead of hopping on a plane for summer vacations, the family drove the 19 hours to Florida. He was 11 or 12 when he started occupying himself with cubes in the back seat. At first it took him hours to twist all the sides into solid colors. “Then it became, if I could do it in 10 minutes that was a huge win,” he said.
His aptitude hadn’t slipped when, in the depths of pandemic boredom, Loeb asked him for a lesson in how to solve one of the half-dozen miniature cubes he had lying around the apartment. “It was a bit daunting,” Loeb said. But she picked it up quickly. Soon they were self-soothing through solving: Workday Zoom meetings and TV watching became occasions to beat their own pixel-twisting records. “There’s a nice repetition to it,” Loeb said.
The eureka moment — when they found that batches of solved cubes could be made into portraits — happened in April, when Pollack put together a few abstract designs. Loeb imagined something grander: a face. They ordered 60 keychain-size cubes, still their medium exclusively.
“We would need a house instead of an apartment if we worked with the standard size,” Loeb said. Soon they had made Mickey Mouse and Pac-Man. “We were just playing around, making fundamental shapes. It was something to do.” Then they made Jimmy Fallon. “That’s when our friends and families were like, ‘How did you do this? You’ve got to get this on social media.’” The reaction surprised them. “To us it was just something silly.”
They had chosen Fallon because they were fans. Subsequent designs followed suit and became tributes. As spring turned to summer, Pollack was ordering 1,000 keychain cubes at a time. Jennifer Lawrence got a cube portrait, and Lizzo.
The couple, both social media shy, figured out Instagram and started posting. Thousands of likes mushroomed into millions in the fall, when they memorialized Ruth Bader Ginsburg and then Trebek via cube. “That’s when it really blew up,” Pollack said. Requests poured in. “People were like, ‘Hey, do you sell this?’ A lot of people wanted us to do their dogs.” An ad hoc business from the Morristown apartment, Nicecubeart, was born.
But the couple have kept their day jobs. Pollack still works for the Jets. Loeb is now the director of digital activation at the advertising firm OMD. In July, they moved from Morristown to an apartment on the Upper East Side. “We’re both pragmatic people,” Pollack said. “It would be great if we got to the point where this could be a full-time thing, or if a gallery in Manhattan approached us. But for now we’re happy to have it as a hobby.” It also has been the theme of their pandemic love story, and engagement.
Pollack proposed to Loeb last summer, just as their designs were starting to attract attention. “I knew I wanted to marry her for a long time,” he said. But figuring out how, as they spent every day together working in their pajamas in the Morristown apartment, was a challenge. July 17 is his birthday.
“So I used it as an excuse to say to Jenn, ‘Let’s get dressed up and have a nice dinner,’” he said. After dinner, while she was in the bedroom, he set up a living room scavenger hunt. It ended with instructions to solve 10 cubes and arrange them into a pattern.
That pattern read “I love you.” Once the words were spelled out, Pollack dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him; through tears, she nodded yes. “My brain was so overwhelmed,” she said. “The fact that he did all that for me — it’s why I love him.”
On May 31, Loeb and Pollack were married in an outdoor ceremony by Rabbi Sharon Forman, Loeb’s second cousin, at the Vineyards at Aquebogue in Riverhead, New York. Loeb, in an ivory lace gown and veil, walked arm in arm down a brick aisle with her parents to a huppah woven with rose vines and flowing white fabric. Pollack, in a royal blue suit and barely visible Rubik’s Cube socks, preceded her. The emerald vineyard sprawled in the distance as 75 guests watched Loeb circle Pollack seven times, a Jewish tradition.
Before Forman pronounced them married, she noted what fans of their Rubik’s creations have likely observed, too: “You are masters at problem solving, teamwork and fun,” she said. After Pollack stomped a glass, they set off to piece together a lifetime of happiness to cheers of “Mazel Tov!”
On This Day
When May 31, 2021
Where The Vineyards at Aquebogue, Riverhead, New York
Happiness, cubed In addition to Pollack’s socks, the couple incorporated their favorite toy into their wedding through the unveiling of a new design. In the vineyard’s lobby, an easel held a portrait of the couple made from 870 Rubik’s Cubes days before the wedding.
No square dancing at a reception under a tent just steps from the ceremony, guests chose from entrees including chateaubriand and salmon teriyaki. A DJ spun “I Get to Love You,” by Ruelle, as their first-dance song.
Exhibition expectations though the Whitney hasn’t come calling yet, wedding guests like Andie Cohn, a longtime friend, expect the couple’s portraits to land them in more museums. “It’s a passion project,” Cohn said of their relationship and their art.
Pivotal Moment After the delivery of 1,000 mini cubes to the couple’s apartment early last summer, Pollack doubled down on his decision to propose. “When Jenn accepted all those cubes,” he said, “I knew she was the one.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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