Jordan Taliha McDonald
Exterior view of the DC Rupel Museum. Photo by Chi Lam. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
After spending more than 50 years building their vast art holdings and setting down lasting roots with the establishment of their museum in Miami in 1993, Don and Mira Rubel have expanded their reach yet again—this time, in the nation’s capital. Since it opened to the public on October 29, 2022, the Washington, D.C. Museum has been discovering its identity. Fortunately, the Rubells are far from novice when it comes to establishing longevity in the art world.
Choosing to build a second location in DC instead of the usual hotspots of New York and Los Angeles may come as a surprise to some. And unlike Miami, the capital is not home to a major art gallery circuit like Art Basel or Untitled Art. However, the local art scene should not be underestimated. “I think this is an exciting time to be in town. I think we’re on track to have a few great companies from within our local community in a few years,” said the Washington-based art dealer and consultant. Sheila Mitchellwho established her namesake Sheila Mitchell Gallery. “People make good offers. There are people here who do the work.”
An installation view, left to right, of Kehinde Wiley and L. Anatsui’s work on What Happens at the DC Rupel Museum, 2022. Photo by Chi Lam. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
Indeed, it was the capital’s unique art ecosystem that attracted the Robles, who have spent decades visiting its museums and engaging with the art community. “The city’s art institutions are among the world’s leading museums, and we are excited to build on its well-established arts ecosystem by highlighting groundbreaking contemporary art that responds to and reflects our current times,” Mira Rubel said in an interview with Arty. . “The museum provides a platform for artists to speak powerfully about social and political issues less than a mile from the Capitol Building.”
The Rubell Museum took advantage of its unique location for the opening ceremony, which made a lasting impression on the attendees, including Mitchell. “If traditional museums are responsible for teaching, I feel private museums are here to help us feel something,” she said. And nowhere else in the city can you see, Chabalala self in conversation with Jonathan Lyndon Chase? That was a special moment.”
shabalala self, two girls2019. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
Lisa Yuskavage Northview2000. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
Mitchell also spoke about the importance of private museums and her hopes for what the Rubell Museum will bring to the city. With a private museum, the intention is to collect. I’d like to see the Rubel Museum add works to it [its] group and to showcase local artists when it makes sense,” added Mitchell. “Being part of Rubell’s group can be a career-changing artist. And there are a lot of artists here who deserve it.”
When it came to the museum’s collection, the Rubles came bearing gifts. With their new corporate presence in the capital, many works of art will be shown in the city for the first time. “The museum’s exhibitions will draw from our broad family collection of contemporary art, which focuses on emerging and unrecognized artists whose work inspires, informs and excites,” said Mira Rubel. “By focusing specifically on contemporary art, we can share the artworks we have collected and exhibited over recent decades alongside and in dialogue with works created only months ago.”
Installation view, left to right, of Christopher Myers and Von Spahn’s work What’s Going On at Rupel DC Museum, 2022. Photo by Chi Lam. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
However, there is still an emphasis on highlighting the work of artists with strong ties to the capital, such as February JamesAnd JAMA Richmond EdwardsAnd Cady Noland. Not to mention that the museum held a solo exhibition of paintings by an artist based in the capital Sylvia Snowden. “It’s such an honor to have my paintings displayed by the Robles family,” Snowden, 80, wrote in an email interview with Artsy. “This is indicative of a focus on the art and not the age of the artist. It is encouraging, not only for me, but for others that they continue to make art. It is a profound statement by the Musée Rupelle—recognition of art is first and foremost.”
Sylvia Snowden, installation view at the Rubell Museum DC, 2022. Photo by Chi Lam. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
The Robles not only think critically about the metaphorical space they hope the museum will fill, but also about its physical space within the history of Southwest D.C. Junior High School, the Rubell Museum will continue the historic site’s commitment to education.
In line with efforts to honor his community, the museum’s inaugural group exhibition “What’s Going On”—which borrows its name from a 1971 song and album by D.C.-born Randall Marvin Gaye School alumni—features a series by Keith Haring This is inspired by Jay’s musical activity. “It was an important part of opening this museum to acknowledge the history of the building and its longstanding importance within the neighborhood,” explained Mira Rubel. “We are delighted to be able to support the preservation of this community landmark and usher in the next chapter as a public cultural and educational resource.”
Keith Haring, Untitled (against all odds)1989. Courtesy of the Rupel Museum.
To facilitate this goal, the museum offers free admission to D.C. residents, and works on partnerships with community-focused individuals and organizations that also see an opportunity to expand the local art scene. Mira Rubel added, “Our mission is to serve as a welcoming community hub that inspires new ideas and conversations in the southwest of DC.”
With a new influx of art comes a new beginning for the city’s art lovers and art professionals. The arrival of the Rupel Museum has already led many to re-examine the existence of collectors and institutions. And this is perhaps the best resource her portal can provide: another place to view art and the world.