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Rubell Museum Washington D.C.

Rendering for Washington D.C. Rubell Museum pre-opening

The Washington D.C. area is about to get a new museum showcasing contemporary modern art. On May 11, 2022, Rubell announced they would open a new location that would be open to the public by October 29, 2022. Here’s what you can expect when the D.C. location opens up and why opening one in the D.C. area might be a welcoming addition.

Don and Mera Rubell met in 1962 at the Brooklyn College Library, and shortly after, wed in 1964. Mera was a teacher at New York’s Head Start program while Don Rubell was a medical student at the time studying gynecology.  At the time, Mera had been saving $25 of each of her paychecks, the equivalent of $238.85 in today's economy, to purchase art with Don.  

 In 1965, the Rubells acquired their first art piece after a year of saving. Their earliest purchase was from artist George Condo. This would be the beginning of their art collection. In 1969, the Rubells expanded their family by welcoming son Jason Rubell and then, a year later in 1970, Jennifer was born.

According to artcollections.io, Don and Mera didn't have a full collection of art when they first started collecting, but as soon as they got married and started saving, they bought art from undiscovered artists, and with limited funds, paid it off in small payments.

 In 1989, Don Rubell’s brother, Steve Rubell, passed away from AIDS. Steve Rubell was the club owner of the infamous club, Studio 54 in New York. After the death of their uncle, Jason was the first one to help his parents collect art. He took initiative in helping his parents by being the third vote into collecting art. The voting had to be 3 out of 3 unanimous votes in order to purchase the art. He had a career change from tennis at Duke University to art collecting. Jennifer would follow on in helping her family collect art as well as being an artist herself.

One artists the family consistently bought work from was Keith Haring. The Rubells met Haring in 1981 in a club called the Mudd Club. Keith Haring is notable for his unique art style. He created artworks like Pet Shop 1 (1987), Fight Aids Worldwide (1990), Untitled Two Figures with Heart (1988), and many more.  

Keith Haring was important to them because, in an article by W Magazine, Diane Solway, one of the authors of W Magazine, stated that when the Rubell’s visited Keith Haring’s first solo show, Keith Haring Club 57, his art consisted of famous Hollywood actors, artists, and many more, but the arts of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley caught their eyes the most. However, the art was sold to an art adviser for Citibank. Even though this may have disappointed both of them, they still kept in touch with Haring. Haring consistently  introduced artists to Don and Mera Rubell to have more connections and to expand their art collection. 

One of the connections that Haring introduced the Rubells to was the late Jean Michel-Basquiat. He created artworks such as Untitled in 1982, Warrior (1982), Riding With Death (1983), and many more. 

After a rough ending in the 1980s with Don’s brother, Steve Rubell, passing away from AIDS-related complications and a not-so-well beginning in the 1990s with their friend Keith Haring passing away from the same fate,  the family moved to Miami, Florida. Don and Mera, as well as Jason and Jennifer Rubell, opened the Rubell Family Collection in 1993. The original space totaled around 40,000 square feet in size—enough room to showcase most of their collection. 

Finally, after 54 long years of collecting and showcasing art, the Rubell Family Collection closed to open the official Rubell Museum, which opened on December 4, 2019 in Miami, Florida. The new space would include about 100,000 square feet to showcase art, hold a cafe, a gift shop, and have public access. 

Big Black Rainbow

The Rubell Museum opened with 300 pieces of art by 100 artists. The official Rubell Museum said in regards to contemporary art in a museum, “providing one of the most far-ranging museums of contemporary art ever presented.” This means that this is the first museum ever to have contemporary art showcased that tells its story. To this day, the Rubells have collected over 7,200 pieces of art by over 1,000 artists. The memo also stated that the art pieces were collected from around the world. Places like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Beijing, São Paulo, and many more.

When the Rubell Museum opened its doors to the public, reviews were steady, averaging about 4 stars on Yelp. One user claimed that the “scope of the collection is amazing. The galleries range from intimate to huge spaces for huge artworks.” This means that the Rubell’s took advantage of the space that was given and used it to its max. However, some reviews claimed that the $15 adult admission price was a little steep. Today, the Rubell Museum has been at a steady 4.5 stars. 

Keith Haring’s Untitled Against All Odds is a staple in Rubell’s collection. Not only does Haring take the name of What’s Going On referenced by Marvin Gaye, but it's also a reference to the late Steve Rubell. In the press released by the Rubell Museum D.C., they claimed that “This pivotal series of 20 works depicts a dystopia that demonstrates Haring's lifelong concern with environmental destruction, oppression, and illness.” The meaning behind the Haring exhibit represents social, cultural, and political controversies that the world faced during the 1980s. 

What we can expect in this new museum opening soon is the inclusion of contemporary art is important because it shows the importance, the history, the message, and the experience in a different medium other than anything electronic, social media, or different mediums. In an interview done with the Washington Post, Peggy McGlone interviewed Don Rubell, says, “Contemporary art is a catalyst for serious conversation.” This quote stands out because contemporary art is needed to tell a message about different issues in the world today. 

The Rubells are no strangers in the Washington, D.C. area. The first ever exhibit that the Rubell Family opened up with was Directions: Sherrie Levine in 1998 in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture and Garden. Their latest D.C. exhibit was in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2016 titled, No Man’s Land: Women Artist from the Rubell Family Collection.

With the October 29 date coming ever so soon, Rubell Museum D.C’s first exhibit will be titled What's Going On. This exhibit will start off with 37 artists showcasing their art with many more. About 190 pieces are to be shown. Artists to be included in this opening are Cady Noland, Kennedy Yanko, Leonardo Drew, and many more. 

The building that the new Rubell Museum is moving into is a total of 32,000 square feet. This is the same building structure prior to the previous housing to a school full of classrooms and offices in 1906. The total amount of renovation of this space is estimated to have been roughly $20 million, according to the Washington Post.  This amazing transformation will tell many stories, insights, and commentary about ideas and issues today. Just like in the Florida location, Rubell is expected to use all of the available space to its max, so stories can be told.

Finally, after years of planning, the Rubells will join the Smithsonian, Hirshhorn, and many more museums in the D.C. area. Now the Rubells have a home in Washington D.C. to showcase many artists telling their stories, issues, and more through contemporary art for everyone to see.

Visit https://rubellmuseum.org/ for more information.

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