Oct 28, 2022 - News

Take a look inside D.C.'s new Rubell Museum

The exterior of the museum. Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

The opening of the highly anticipated Rubell Museum marks the revival of the historic Randall Junior High School building that sat untouched since 2006.

Why it matters: The museum has been a long time coming since art world power couple Don and Mera Rubell purchased the historic Black school building in Southwest D.C. 12 years ago to house their extensive contemporary art collection.

Flashback: Before D.C., the Rubells, who made their fortune thanks to Don’s brother’s hospitality business (entrepreneur Steve Rubell also co-owned the legendary New York disco Studio 54), opened their first art museum in Miami — which spawned massive development in the Wynwood neighborhood.

This piece by artist Kehinde Wiley is one of the first things patrons see when they visit the museum. Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

What they did: The Rubells brought on Hany Hassan, the director of Beyer Blinder Belle’s D.C. office, as the lead designer. Hassan is known for revitalizing historic buildings across the District, including an expansion of Arlington National Cemetery and the Washington Monument Visitor’s Center.

State of play: The Randall School's main building and two adjacent wings were passed over during a 1950s urban renewal project and had since fallen into disrepair.

  • Hassan tells Axios the roof had to be replaced, and every brick of the building has been refurbished.
  • The building has also received accessibility upgrades.
  • The 4,000-square-foot auditorium will be used to present large-scale art and performances. Meanwhile, teachers' offices and classrooms have been transformed into galleries.

Other spaces in the museum include a new glass pavilion entrance, a bookstore, an eventual bakery, and a terrace for community gatherings.

What they’re saying: With the renovation, “the building is more of an envelope which represents the art,” Hassan tells Axios.

  • “Everyone can really enjoy this building in a sense that was once a beacon. It’s really transformative in the Southwest area, because of the scale of the project,” he adds.

The museum's inaugural exhibit is a throwback to the building's roots.

Details: The exhibit, "What’s Going On," draws its title from a 1971 album by Marvin Gaye, who attended Randall Junior High School.

  • The album was a critique of the Vietnam War and also an exploration of poverty, substance use, and social injustices.
Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

The exhibit itself is introduced with Keith Haring’s "Untitled (Against All Odds)" 1989 collection of 20 works, in which Haring cites the influence of Gaye’s album on his art.

  • Haring’s series within the museum is dedicated to Don Rubell’s brother Steve who, like Haring, died from an AIDs-related illness. Gaye's music will play throughout the gallery filled with Haring’s work.
Some of the artwork by Keith Haring. Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios)

Thirty-seven other artists, whose works respond to social and political issues, are also represented, including D.C.-born Cady Noland.

  • This exhibit spans three floors with each opening up to a hallway with half a dozen doors snaking off into former classrooms, now converted into galleries.

The big picture: The museum's galleries retain original wood flooring and brick archways with wide windows that filter in natural light.

The building’s basement is perhaps one of the most enticing areas. It remains almost entirely brick and presents an eerie atmosphere, as the wood flooring above creaks from the footsteps of other visitors.

How to visit: The museum is free for D.C. residents ($10-$15 for non-residents). The closest Metro stations are Navy Yard and Waterfront, both a 10-minute walk.

  • While the museum’s bakery isn’t functional yet, the area provides a myriad of lunch options, such as Station 4, grab-and-go Round Pocket Arepas right outside the Waterfront Metro, and fast-casual options including Rasa, Cava, and &pizza outside Navy Yard.
Photo: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

Editor's note: Two sentences from this story were removed because they erroneously reported that the Rubells owned and are developing an apartment building adjacent to the museum. The apartment building is owned by a separate developer.


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