Rubell Museum DC Announces Inaugural Exhibition

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Today, the Rubell Museum announced the inaugural exhibit “What’s Going On” for its new museum opening on October 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. Dedicated exclusively to contemporary art, the Rubell Museum DC will revitalize the building of the former 1906 Randall Junior High School, a historically black public school in southwest DC that ceased operations in 1978.

The museum will serve as a place for the public to engage with the most compelling national and international works of art of our time. What’s Going On takes its title from Randall Junior High School alumnus Marvin Gaye’s groundbreaking 1971 album, which strongly condemned the Vietnam War and the destructive realities of social injustice, drug abuse and environmental neglect. It also references the exhibition’s cornerstone: Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds), 1989, a series of 20 works inspired by Gaye’s revolutionary writing.

“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,” said Mera Rubell. “As a former teacher, I see artists and teachers playing parallel roles as educators and in promoting civic engagement. With the preservation of this building, we honor the legacy of the many teachers, students and parents at Randall School.”

Covering 32,000 square feet, the museum preserves the original layout of the historic school. What were once classrooms and teachers’ offices now serve as galleries of artwork that offer perspective, insight and commentary on contemporary ideas and issues. The adaptive reuse of the building also preserves the school’s 4,000-square-foot auditorium, an expansive space for showcasing ambitious, large-scale artworks and performances. The museum’s new glass pavilion entrance will feature a bakery, bookstore and patio that will serve as a beacon for the community.

What’s Going On brings together more than 190 works by 37 artists 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 preoccupation with environmental degradation, oppression, and disease. In a handwritten inscription accompanying 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 is dedicated to Don Rubell’s brother Steve Rubell, who died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 45.

The opening of the Rubell Museum DC builds on previous initiatives aimed at sharing the Rubell family’s contemporary art collection with audiences throughout the greater DC area. In 2011, the Corcoran Gallery of Art was one of the first institutions to present 30 Americans, a wide-ranging survey of the work of many of the most important African American artists of the past three decades.

Other 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 the American University Museum’s Cats Arts Center. Loans from the collection have been shown in Juan Muñoz (2001), Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing (2001) and Directions: Sherrie Levine (1998) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; and Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow (2011) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Other loans have been exhibited 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 revitalization and adaptive conversion of the historic building into a museum was conceived by the Rubells and Telesis and implemented by Lowe, a national real estate developer who is also developing an adjacent new 492-unit apartment building, Gallery 64, with 20% of its interest in affordable units Living room. Beyer Blinder Belle is the design architect for the museum and residence.

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