The new Rubell Museum DC at 65 I Street SW. Courtesy Rubell Museum DC.

Schools and museums are places to visit and learn, so it fits that the former Randall Junior High School in Southwest D.C., is the home of the new Rubell Museum DC.    

On Oct. 27, Mayor Muriel Browser dedicated with a red ribbon-cutting ceremony this exciting and major new addition to the world-class D.C. artworld. The Rubell’s astonishing contents – 24 galleries containing 8,000 works of contemporary art by more than 1,000 artists — are housed in the transformed 1906 school building originally for African-American students. 

The opening exhibition What’s Going On  takes its title and theme from the epic 1971 hit song of its most famous former pupil, Marvin Gaye who captured the zeitgeist of the period. The 190 cutting edge contemporary art works by 50 artists in the exhibit resonate with what’s going on today — condemning societal injustice, drug abuse and environmental negligence that continue. 

Entrance through the 4,000-seat auditorium, with daylight streaming through its towering windows, presents a powerful energizing introduction to what is to follow.  

Here loom four works:  El Anatsui’s Another Man’s Cloth (2006) created from aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. Kehinde Wiley’s Sleep (2008) is in traditional media of oil on canvas. Created with appliqué fabric, Christopher Myers’ Earth (2020) depicts allegorical images, while Vaughn Spann’s Big Black Rainbow (Smoky Eyes, 2019) created from paint on terry cloth is abstract.  

The art walk through classrooms, now re-purposed as galleries, starts with Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds, 1989), a series of 20 works (Sumi ink and gouache on handmade linen paper) depicting a dystopia that demonstrates Haring’s lifelong concern with environmental destruction, oppression, and illness. Haring, who later died of AIDS, listened to Gaye’s album endlessly while he created this series, which was dedicated to Don Rubell’s brother Steve Rubell, who also passed away from AIDS at age 45.   

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