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Inaugurating the opening of the Rubell Museum DC, the exhibitions, Sylvia Snowden and What’s Going On, opened to the public on October 29, 2022. Dedicated exclusively to contemporary art, the Rubell Museum DC reinvigorates the 1906 building of the former Randall Junior High School, a historically Black public school in Southwest DC that ceased operations in 1978. The museum, which is free for Washington DC residents, will serve as a place for the public to engage with the most compelling national and international artists of our time.

 

What’s Going On draws its title from the groundbreaking 1971 album by Randall Junior High School alumnus Marvin Gaye that provided a powerful condemnation of the Vietnam War and the destructive realities of social injustice, drug abuse, and environmental negligence. It also references the cornerstone of the exhibition: Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds), 1989, a series of 20 works inspired by Gaye’s revolutionary lyrics.  

“The museum’s historic setting in a place of learning invites the public to explore what artists can teach us about the world we live in and the issues with which we are wrestling as individuals and as a society,” said Mera Rubell. “As a former teacher, I see artists and teachers playing parallel roles as educators and in fostering civic engagement. With the preservation of this building, we honor the legacy of the Randall School’s many teachers, students, and parents.”

Totaling 32,000 square feet, the museum preserves the original layout of the historic school. What were once classrooms and teachers’ offices have been transformed into galleries with artwork that provides perspectives, insights, and commentary on contemporary ideas and issues. The adaptive reuse of the building also retains the school’s 4,000-square-foot auditorium, a sweeping space for the presentation of ambitious, large-scale artworks and performances. The museum’s new glass pavilion entrance will feature a bakery, bookstore, and terrace that will serve as a beacon for the community.

 

What’s Going On brings together more than 190 works by 50 artists who are responding to pressing social and political issues that continue to affect society today, including Natalie Ball, Cecily Brown, Maurizio Cattelan, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Leonardo Drew, Chase Hall, February James, Rashid Johnson, Josh Kline, Cady Noland, Richard Prince, Christina Quarles, Tschabalala Self, Sylvia Snowden, Vaughn Spann, Hank Willis Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, John Waters, Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Kennedy Yanko, and Cajsa von Zeipel, among many others.  

Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds), 1989, introduces the exhibition. This pivotal series of 20 works depicts a dystopia that demonstrates Haring’s lifelong concern with environmental destruction, oppression, and illness. In a handwritten inscription that accompanies these drawings, Haring cites the influence of Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On, which he listened to endlessly while creating these artworks. The series was dedicated by Haring to Don Rubell’s brother Steve Rubell, who passed away from AIDS in 1989 at age 45.

 

The opening of the Rubell Museum DC builds on past initiatives aimed at sharing the Rubell Family’s contemporary art collection with audiences across the DC metro area. In 2011, the Corcoran Gallery of Art became one of the first institutions to present 30 Americans, a wide-ranging survey of works by many of the most important Black artists of the last three decades.

Additional Rubell Museum exhibitions that have traveled to DC include No Man’s Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection (2016) at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Life After Death: New Leipzig Paintings (2006) at American University Museum’s Katzen Arts Center. Loans from the collection have been featured in Juan Muñoz (2001), Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing (2001), and Directions: Sherrie Levine (1998) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; as well as Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow (2011) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Additional loans have been showcased at the National Portrait Gallery, including a work by Kehinde Wiley in Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture (2008) and by Njideka Akunyili Crosby in the museum’s forthcoming presentation of Kinship (opening October 28, 2022).

The historic building’s reinvigoration and adaptive reuse into a museum was conceived by the Rubells and Telesis, and realized by Lowe, a national real estate developer, which is also developing an adjacent new 492-unit apartment building, Gallery 64, with 20% of its units dedicated to affordable housing. Beyer Blinder Belle is the design architect for the museum and the apartment building.

 

About the Rubell Museum DC
Located at 65 I Street in the Southwest neighborhood, the Rubell Museum DC brings the Rubell Family’s extensive contemporary art collection to the nation’s capital. After nearly 30 years as the Rubell Family Collection and with the 2019 expansion to a new location in Miami, the institution was renamed the Rubell Museum to emphasize its public mission and expand access for audiences. 

Shortly after Mera and Don Rubell married in 1964, they started visiting artists’ studios and collecting art in New York, when Mera was a Head Start teacher and Don was in medical school. Their son, Jason Rubell, joined them in 1982 in building the collection, creating the exhibitions, and developing the museums, reflecting the multi-generational family passion for discovering, engaging, and supporting many of today’s most compelling artists.

The Rubell Museum’s collection is distinguished by its unprecedented range and depth that has enabled the Museum to organize over 50 exhibitions during the last three decades drawn entirely from its holdings in painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation. These have included such groundbreaking and diverse exhibitions as Richard Prince (2004), Red Eye: Los Angeles Artists (2006), Against All Odds: Keith Haring (2008), Beg Borrow and Steal (2009), 28 Chinese (2013), NO MAN’S LAND (2015), Still Human (2017), Purvis Young (2018), and Yayoi Kusama (2020). Many of these exhibitions have toured to museums internationally and have been accompanied by catalogues.

   

For media inquiries, please contact: 

Resnicow and Associates 

Chelsea Beroza / Julia Exelbert / Sarah McNaughton / Emilia Litwak
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