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Contemporary Art at the Rubell Museum D.C.

February 15, 2023
Kehinde Wiley, Sleep, 2008.

People writing about the Rubell Museum in Southwest D.C. like to say it’s less than a mile from the National Mall. However, the Rubell Museum is even closer to the last big-deal museum that opened in Southwest: the Museum of the Bible.

Both are provocative. The Museum of the Bible has a 1524 edition of Martin Luther’s Old Testament translation into German. The Rubell Museum has several sexualized exhibits that neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times chose to feature in their articles about the museum’s opening.

I won’t share any of those snaps either, but you should go see the Rubell Museum exhibits. All of them. In person if you can, because that’s the best way to experience contemporary art.

The first painting you see when you enter is the massive Sleep by Kehinde Wiley (above). It’s luminous! Other huge, equally engaging pieces follow.

Vaughn Spann, Big Black Rainbow (Smoky Eyes), 2019.

This amazing museum is housed in the former Randall Junior High School, a D.C. Public School that closed in 1978. Its incarnation as a contemporary art museum is one of many uses it’s been put to. The first series of Rubell Museum exhibits honors Marvin Gaye, who graduated from there in 1954.

Who goes straight downstairs afterward? I do! (Despite the other, less disturbing choices.)

John Miller, A Refusal to Accept Limits, 2007.

There was an upstairs, too!

I like goats, or so I thought. Taxidermied ones in vases have made me question that inclination. I always expect a spider in a vase, but going forward, I will be hard pressed not to imagine that vases hold larger, somehow more unsettling creatures.

I loved the Matthew Day Jackson pieces, and not just because one of them looks like my grandma.

Matthew Day Jackson, Harriet (First Portrait), 2006.

Jasmin 1 is my Mona Lisa.

Karon Davis, Jasmin 1, 2021.

This piece by artist-in-residence Genesis Tramaine appears very much at home.

Genesis Tramaine, Mother. Saint. Rebekah., 2020.

Here’s something that, despite the halo, you can’t find at the Museum of the Bible.

Purvis Young, Faces, 1980-1999.

One of my now all-time favorite self-portraits is below. The piece is positioned so it faces numerous of the artist’s other works. Still, I feel subtly judged for waiting so long to visit the Rubell Museum.

Juanita McNeely, Self, 1968.

Here’s a link to the Rubell Museum D.C.’s current exhibits, which are free for Southwest D.C. residents. Get your tickets, Southwesters. Do it now!

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