My first visit to the Rubell Museum in Miami left me with one, profound question. It struck me minutes after entering the collection’s new showplace in the warehouse-y, emerging, Allapattah neighborhood. What if every art museum looked like the Rubell Museum in Miami?
What if every art museum paid this much attention to Black artists? To women. To the candid presentation of same-sex relationships.
What if every art museum highlighted the work of Kerry James Marshall, Cecily Brown, Kehinde Wiley, Jean-Michel Basquiat, George Condo, Keith Haring, Amoako Boafo, Tschabalala Self, Mickalene Thomas, Rashid Johnson, Karon Davis?
What if every art museum director cared as much about sharing these voices as they do the voices of white men working in the European tradition?
What if their boards of directors–titans of American industry and finance–felt the same and put their extraordinary wealth behind supporting these artists?
Would white supremacy in America still run amok? Would policing and incarceration still overwhelmingly prejudice against Black people? Would violence against women continue to be as prevalent? Would the wealth gap be so great? Would the country be as blatantly–and evenly–cleaved between the forces of progress and of regress?
What would America look like if every American art museum looked like the Rubell Museum?
Mera and Don Rubell
Mera and Don Rubell began collecting contemporary art following their first studio visit in 1965. What began with acquisitions made on installment plans has grown to become one of the most significant holdings of contemporary art in the world, more than 7,000 works from more than 1,000 artists. They continue collecting.
The 100,000-square-foot campus which now shows off their collection opened on December 4, 2019 in a sparkling new showplace in the city’s Allapattah warehouse district. While the Rubell’s wealth has provided for the collection to achieve the staggering grandeur it enjoys today, it’s foundation was vision, not money.
A vision the Rubell’s have possessed for over 50 years. A vision sorely lacking in the hallowed halls of too many of America’s art museums which, over that time period, steeped as they were in their exclusionary traditions, failed to imagine a time when non-white, non-male artists would be producing the world’s most compelling paintings and sculptures. That time is now. It has been here for years. Decades.
The institutions that couldn’t anticipate that change feel naked when compared to the luxurious diversity the Rubell drapes itself in.
Finding any one of the artists centered by the Rubell in another art museum is easy. Finding them all, in this depth, on view at the same time, is an exceptional rarity and privilege.
This is a completely different way to look at art. A different way to look at art history. A different way to look at America.
A better, fuller, more sensitive view.
If these were the works universally exalted across America’s art museums, if these were the images filling the heads of American children over generations, what would America’s conversations about race, gender and sexuality sound like today?
Black art and artists on global stage at El Espacio 23
These questions, expanded to the global stage, can be considered a mile down the street from the Rubell at El Espacio 23. This is the space where another super-collector, Jorge M. Pérez, both stores and displays items from his collection which have become too numerous to place on view in the former Miami Art Museum which now bears his name–the Pérez Art Museum Miami.
El Espacio 23’s current presentation of “WITNESS: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” takes visitors to Africa and across the African diaspora through the work of artists primarily from the continent. The vast majority of these artists will be totally unfamiliar to guests, even those deeply entrenched in the domestic arts scene.
Enormous, dynamic, provocative pieces hang floor-to-ceiling, filling the spare, industrial setting at El Espacio 23.
Misheck Masamvu’s (Zimbabwe) Therapy Lounge, Buhlebezwe Siwani’s (South Africa) Batsho bancama, Barthélémy Toguo’s (Cameroon) Rwanda and Christopher Myers’ (United States) Nation of Refugees are all revelatory.
Visiting the Rubell Museum and El Espacio 23 accomplishes what travel seeks to at its highest level of aspiration. To change people, broadening them by presenting perspectives and experiences unavailable “at home.”