The Rubell Museum DC has managed to convert a space fallen into disrepair into a museum that brings accessible contemporary art to Washington. The museum is located in a 32,000 square-foot building that began as Cardozo Elementary School in 1906, before becoming Randall Junior High School in 1927. Owners Mera and Don Rubell have been collecting art for over five decades and are known for spotlighting emerging and underrecognized artists. This new museum, which is an outpost of their Miami location, draws from their collection of over 7,000 works by more than 1,000 artists. Located less than a mile from the Capitol Building, the Rubell Museum DC reflects their desire to engage critically with issues that seem more meaningful in the nation’s capital.
What’s Going On—the inaugural exhibition named after the 1971 Marvin Gaye album—feels especially inspired by Washingtonians and their history, as Marvin Gaye was an alumnus of Randall Junior High School. The exhibition begins with Keith Haring’s 1989 series of 20 drawings, Untitled (Against All Odds), which was inspired by Gaye’s music. The other exhibition currently on display focuses on Shell; Glimpses (2010-2012)—a series by DC-based artist Sylvia Snowden that consists of vibrantly painted abstract pieces inspired by her daughter. The art in the museum dates from a few decades ago to just a few months, and primarily spotlights American artists, which allows for topics like race and identity to be brought up in ways that feel both historical and relevant.
As a private collection, the museum benefits from having more room for experimentation than is possible at some of DC’s larger museums like the National Gallery or the Hirshhorn. Several of the 24 galleries only focus on one or two artists, which provides a rare intimacy with the artwork. Tickets are free for DC residents and $10 for students. While DC has no shortage of museums, the Rubell Museum DC has created a platform for artists to discuss sociopolitical issues and that will hopefully provide an educational and artistic space in Ward 6.
Ceci Mestre is an undeclared freshman in the College.