A New Rubell Museum Is Coming Soon to DC 

The Rubell Museum in Miami, founded in 1993 to house Don and Mera Rubell’s vast private contemporary art collection, will open a new space in Washington, DC in late October this year. Residents of the city will enjoy free admission to the museum, to be located at 65 I Street in southwest DC, under a mile’s walk from the Capitol.

The new 32,000-square-foot location has been repurposed from what once was Cardozo Elementary and later Randall Junior High School, a historically Black public school that was active from 1906 to 1978 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to accommodating exhibition galleries, the building will include “flexible activation spaces,” a bookstore, and a café offering indoor and outdoor dining. It will be about half the size of the Hirshhorn Museum, DC’s preeminent institution dedicated to contemporary art, offering a more compact and lower-traffic alternative to the Smithsonian landmark on the National Mall.

According to a press release, the museum will preserve the landmark building through “adaptive reuse.” The project is led by national real estate developer Lowe, which will also construct an adjacent 492-unit apartment building, 20% of which will be affordable housing.

In 2019, the Rubell Family Collection, as it was known when it occupied a building in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, relocated to a 100,000-square-foot complex in nearby Allapattah and became the Rubell Museum. Some locals have expressed concerns that the arrival of contemporary art institutions to Allapattah — such as the Rubell Museum, condo developer Jorge Pérez’s El Espacio 23, and Pace Gallery’s immersive art venture Superblue — will contribute to worsening gentrification in the working-class neighborhood.

Mickalene Thomas, “Baby I Am Ready Now” (2007), acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel diptych, overall 72 x 132 inches, acquired by the Rubells in 2007 (courtesy the Rubell Museum)

The Rubells’ collection is extensive, clocking in at 7,400 works by over 1,000 artists. Among collectors, the Rubells are closely watched, known for spotting emerging artists before their works skyrocket in value. The collection boasts pieces created by famous artists early in their careers, such as one of Jeff Koons’s iconic Hoover vacuum cleaner sculptures from 1979, a set of portraits by Catherine Opie taken in the early 1990s, and a 50-foot-long woodcut carved by Kerry James Marshall in 1999. Collection highlights in the Miami museum include works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amoako Boafo, and Kara Walker. The Rubell Museum is also known for its exhibition 30 Americans, which features works by 31 contemporary Black American artists. It has toured institutions in the United States for over a decade and is reputed to have transformed museums in their representation of Black artists in the process.

“Creating a museum for sharing our collection with the people who live and work in our nation’s capital and those who visit the city from across the US and around the world fulfills a longtime dream for us,” Mera Rubell said in a statement. “We are truly excited to be joining the community of outstanding museums in the city and adding a public resource that explores contemporary life, issues, and ideas.”

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