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Inside the Rubell Museum, DC’s Must-Visit New Contemporary-Art Space

A preview of the much-anticipated new museum in Southwest DC.

The New Rubell Museum located in southwest DC. Photography by Keely Bastow

The new Rubell Museum in Southwest DC welcomes visitors through a beautiful glass entryway that leads to an open space with wall-to-wall works of art. Sunlight streams through giant windows, creating grid patterns that warm the rooms. The space is understated yet bold, with white walls contrasted by art emphasizing bright colors and sharp designs.

Pieces taken from the Rubells’ famed collection of more than 7,400 works are featured in the renovated 32,000-square-foot space. The inaugural exhibit focuses on diverse voices and fresh ideas. Pieces on display include Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds), a series of 20 drawings from 1989 that he completed in a single day while listening to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. A stereo plays the classic album for visitors while they view the collection.

Gaye attended Randall Junior High School—which is now the site of the museum—from 1950 to 1954, and the exhibit builds upon his interest in social justice, identity, and peace. Spaces that used to be classrooms and teachers’ offices have been transformed into an immersive celebration of contemporary art from the last 50 years.

Juanita McNeely’s ‘Woman’s Psyche’ on display in the Rubell Museum. Photography by Keely Bastow

Mera Rubell, one half of the the founding couple, said at a press event that as a collector she wants to emphasize the “voice behind the art” in their exhibits. Mera and her husband, Don, have been collecting art for more than 50 years and are well-established as tastemakers in the contemporary art world. They are known for spotting promising young artists.

As viewers walk through the three floors and 24 galleries of the museum, they’ll notice that the museum is intended to be a new kind of experience. On the first floor, visitors can stand on platforms to peer inside giant vases and will see [SPOILER ALERT!] unexpected creatures inside. On the second, a collection of vivid feminist paintings by Juanita McNeely portrays her experiences with sexism, illness, pregnancy, and abortion. In the basement, visitors will encounter works like Josh Kline’s Thank You for Your Years of Service. A plastic doll shaped as a woman lies in the fetal position inside of a clear plastic garbage bag. The work forces viewers to reflect on themes of capitalism, unemployment, and expendable labor.

A plastic doll lays in the fetal position inside of a plastic garbage bag
Josh Klines ‘Thank You for Your Service’, featured in the new Rubell Museum. Photograph by Keely Bastow

The museum is located at 65 I St., SW, about a ten-minute walk from the Waterfront Metro station. Here are a few more photos of the impressive space:

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Keely recently graduated with her master’s in journalism from American University and has reported on local DC, national politics, and business. She has previously written for The Capitol Forum.