Ruby City: A modern art experience

Unique museum stands out as a gem in San Antonio’s downtown area


Ruby City’s main entrance. Laura Thevaos/The Paisano

Laura Thevaos, Staff Writer

Approaching from the outside, Ruby City stands out in comparison to the other archaic buildings in downtown San Antonio. It is a burnt red color with tall geometric walls, towering above the ground like a still, hovering ship. 

Ruby City was imagined and founded by dedicated art collector Linda Pace, who lived from 1945-2007. Her inspiration for the architecture came after waking up from a dream one night; a sparkling crimson building appeared to Linda in her sleep and then, using colored pencil, she sketched the fanciful image and shared it with world-renowned architect Sir David Adjaye OBE. 

This $16 million art museum opened up on Oct. 13, 2019, but soon closed due to the pandemic; the museum reopened over the summer. Since Ruby City is back open, strict and careful procedures are being taken to ensure the safety of both visitors and staff. Masks are required upon entry, six-feet safety distances are encouraged and capacity is capped at 50%. There are many incredible artworks displayed in the museum, including large-scale paintings, sculptures, a video film experience and life-size displays. There are also museum associates walking around who are available to give background information to the works and explain the meaning and history behind them. One of the more popular pieces in the collection is by Rachel Whitereed. This work is composed of eight white shelves that look to be upside down, with divets and ridges etched into the plaster. 

“Most basically it is a casting of books. You can see that all these books were on a bookshelf and she is casting the negative space. You can see some of these left an imprint of pages. In some cases the pages were decaying or older. This artist is very well known for doing this stuff. She once casted a literal house. She also designed the Holocaust museum in Vienna, which also has to do with books. But it has to do with empty bookshelves, because of all the books that were burned during the Holocaust,” explained one of the museum associates. 

Another piece that catches the eye is a bronze sculpture of a woman lying on a block of wood, her hair braided and her eyes closed. This work is by artist Wangechi Mutu and is titled “The Second Dreamer.”

“This bust plays upon some really common historical tropes. As you can see this is not a bust that portrays western ideals of beauty, like other European busts. This rejects that idealized beauty and elevates a different kind of beauty,” the museum associate further explained. 

Another work that has a lot of meaning behind it is by artist Glenn Ligon called “Stranger in the Village.” It is a large-scale work made with layers of shimmering coal dust, which reveal text called “Stranger in the Village” from author James Baldwin, detailing an experience he had travelling to Leukerbad, Switzerland. He was the only Black man the people there had ever seen, and he refers in this passage to the racism and rage he experienced living there. Ligon chose this piece as a commentary on modern culture, himself being a Black man. The words slowly reveal themselves as viewers observe the artwork. 

In total, Ruby City is an incredible place to visit and there are many more works available to view. The museum is open to the public Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission to the museum is free. Walk-ins will be accommodated as long as the capacity limit has not been met; reservations are encouraged and can be made at or by calling 210-227-8400.