In its new coat of eggshell, the repurposed warehouse could have easily been anything that you would find in post-industrial urban America, and if it weren’t for the vertical banners fluttering in the glossy Miami sunshine, you would have no idea that you were looking at a museum. An entrance that resembles a fence and is so narrow that visitors practically arrive in single file gives no hint of its importance as the sole public gateway to an art collection of equal or greater value than many professional sports teams.
In 1965, the Rubells amassed one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of contemporary art in the world, comprising more than 7,200 works by more than 1,000 artists. The collection is further distinguished by the diversity and geographic distribution of artists included within it, as well as the depth of its holdings of seminal artists. In 1993, their passion became their mission with the opening of the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Art Foundation in the Wynwood neighborhood within Miami. This initiative led to the development of Wynwood as one of the premier art and design districts in the U.S., pioneering a new model of sharing private collections with the public.
As part of its commitment to serve as a public resource, Rubell Museum is opening a 100,000-square-foot campus on Dec 4, 2019. A majority of the campus will be accessible to the public. Housed in a former industrial building transformed by Selldorf Architects, the new museum features 53,000 square feet of galleries, with 65% dedicated to long-term installations and 35% to special exhibitions, all drawn from the collection. Near the Santa Clara Metrorail stop and less than a mile from its current location, the new museum is located in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami.
Rubell Family Collection has officially been renamed Rubell Museum in anticipation of the opening of its new facility. This changes emphasizes the collection’s public mission and welcomes audiences to explore contemporary art. In the 26 years since the Rubell Family Collection opened in Wynwood, the Rubells have added many public programs, including a partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Curatorial training internships and artist residencies are also offered at the museum.
The Rubells’ collection would be impressive in just about any neighborhood, with Keith Haring’s walls, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms, and Basquiat’s pair. But the true miracle of the museum’s new home is that it doesn’t feel like an intrusion into its environment or like an elitist beachhead in a neighborhood that’s in the early stages of being ruined. It is Annabelle Selldorf’s minimalist museum that fulfills its specific function entirely, without regard for seemingly any other factor.
The unadorned building primes its patrons for the contemplation of art and nothing more. It is a place completely stripped of ornamentation, aggrandizement, and gimmick, with no Instagrammer-baiting attempts at iconography and no apparent concern over how cool it’s supposed to make its visitors feel. The single metal gate leads to a covered concourse forming one side of a gardenlike courtyard, wild with tropical flora.
Also, a pleasant cafe with a shady outdoor bar is set deep into the courtyard, behind the garden. In a welcome change of pace from recent museum design, both the indoor lobby and the gift shop are a little bigger than walk-in closets and are connected to the garden through a decidedly unmonumental set of doors. While the hours are wasted in gloriously Miamian fashion at that cafe, the restaurant cannot be seen or heard, or smelled from the long, ramp-like gallery connecting the ticket desk to the bulk of the exhibit space. This gallery welcomes visitors with the hundreds of mirrored spheres that form the Narcissus Garden, another one of the museum’s Kusama mind-blowers. It is a tribute both to Selldorf’s vision and to Don and Mera Rubell’s collecting tastes that the art is the primary reason to visit the new Rubell. A good contemporary art museum should move, thrill, and appall its visitors, above all, it should surprise them.
In 2021, one doesn’t expect to encounter nine recent paintings by the superstar Ghanaian portraitist Amoako Boafo in a single room, not under the subway tracks at least. A 12-panel Kerry James Marshall cityscape of Chicago, taken from the vantage of an upper-story apartment in a public housing project, stretches across 50 feet of uneasily radiant yellows, browns, and blues and shows off how seamlessly Selldorf’s building accommodates works of unusual scale. Charles Ray is so unnerving a sculptor that it’s possible to remember every piece of his you’ve ever seen. Certainly, his depiction of life-sized, hyperrealistic identical male figures engaged in various ambiguous sex acts, which take up an entire room at the Rubell, will stick in the mind for a while. The collection includes one of those David Wojnarowicz works that’s so frenetic, it seems like its surface is moving.
Continuing deep into the museum, which is comprised of 40 rooms with varying ceiling heights and sizes, galleries are arranged around a former loading dock that Selldorf was kind enough to leave intact. Even the garage doors are still there, not far from Harings. The philosophy implied in the building is almost revolutionary in this day and age: Art should be enough on its own. Surely, one museum might not be enough to stop what’s likely coming.
In 10 years, and in part because of the Rubell’s arrival, Allapattah is sure to resemble the garnish cluster of brunch spots, high-end commercial galleries, and starchitect-designed condos that characterize both the complex and the Highline corridor in Manhattan, not to mention Wynwood, the trendy Miami arts district a neighborhood over. The relationship between art and real estate is just about unbreakable in the contemporary American city, but the Rubell will at least pose a brave contrast to any surrounding crassness. Even if it’s destined to become a property value multiplier despite itself, it will still be that rare new museum built to reward those in search of the inner experience that art and art alone can provide.
A new kind of museum, the Rubell Museum advocates a diversity of contemporary artists and provides resources for both the public and the art world to engage in dialogue with them. Since the Rubells moved to Miami many years ago, other museums and public collections have opened and the city has developed a vital arts ecology. They see their new museum as providing a context for art and exhibitions that are available to the public in South Florida and beyond.