Excitement Builds for Just-Opened Rubell Museum DC 

Schools and museums are places to visit and learn, so it fits that the former Randall Junior High School in Southwest D.C., is the home of the new Rubell Museum DC.    

On Oct. 27, Mayor Muriel Browser dedicated with a red ribbon-cutting ceremony this exciting and major new addition to the world-class D.C. artworld. The Rubell’s astonishing contents – 24 galleries containing 8,000 works of contemporary art by more than 1,000 artists — are housed in the transformed 1906 school building originally for African-American students. 

“A Refusal to Accept Limits.” By J.A. Miller. Courtesy Rubell Museum DC.

The opening exhibition What’s Going On  takes its title and theme from the epic 1971 hit song of its most famous former pupil, Marvin Gaye who captured the zeitgeist of the period. The 190 cutting edge contemporary art works by 50 artists in the exhibit resonate with what’s going on today — condemning societal injustice, drug abuse and environmental negligence that continue. 

Entrance through the 4,000-seat auditorium, with daylight streaming through its towering windows, presents a powerful energizing introduction to what is to follow.  

Here loom four works:  El Anatsui’s Another Man’s Cloth (2006) created from aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. Kehinde Wiley’s Sleep (2008) is in traditional media of oil on canvas. Created with appliqué fabric, Christopher Myers’ Earth (2020) depicts allegorical images, while Vaughn Spann’s Big Black Rainbow (Smoky Eyes, 2019) created from paint on terry cloth is abstract.  

The art walk through classrooms, now re-purposed as galleries, starts with Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds, 1989), a series of 20 works (Sumi ink and gouache on handmade linen paper) depicting a dystopia that demonstrates Haring’s lifelong concern with environmental destruction, oppression, and illness. Haring, who later died of AIDS, listened to Gaye’s album endlessly while he created this series, which was dedicated to Don Rubell’s brother Steve Rubell, who also passed away from AIDS at age 45.   

Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds, 1989). Courtesy Rubell Museum DC.

There are works by world famous artists. And in a room with walls filled from floor to ceiling with photographs, over 80 works by Hank Willis Thomas, a former Duke Ellington High School student are displayed.    

Some galleries focus on the works of one artist like Purvis Young. Other galleries share a theme. The American flag is represented in works as diverse as Paulo Nazareth’s color photograph Untitled, from the News of the Americas series (2011/12), which realistically displays the American flag being stepped upon by two bare feet. On the opposite wall is Danh Vo’s Kellogg’s (2010), a glittery gold creation from an unfolded cardboardbox. 

All the art is not on the walls. There are works like DayJackson’s Chariot (The Day After The End of Days, 2006) which fills the room with the presence and the complexity of its composition.  In contrast, is the simplicity of Huang Yong Ping’s three ceramic taxidermical works, each titled Well (2007).  

Thus, the art is purposed and arranged to provide visitors the experience not to be given “just the facts,” but to have a place to feel and think about the works which so engage every area of life.      

This power of art to transform — a visual catalyst for communication – serves as a memorable and unique portal into “what’s going on” around us.    

For information about the Rubell Museum DC at 65 I Street SW go to Dc.rubellmuseum.org 




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