Justin Rabideau shares his voice through his work

Director of the Zuckerman Museum of Art Justin Rabideau shows his own work in new exhibit at the Kibbee Gallery


Justin Rabideau calls himself, by nature as an artist, a “curious creature.” By using the materials he finds in a particular place in his work, he can examine and understand a new environment. For Rabideau, found objects contain an exciting contextual history to tap into, “a humanistic feeling of attachment or nostalgia or memory,” that has been imprinted by people’s interactions. On April 12th, the Kibbee Gallery presents Rabideau’s sculptural installations alongside work by artist Casey McGuire. McGuire as well uses found objects, specifically construction materials, to create large-scale installations.

Rabideau’s name might sound familiar in another context - as the Museum Director of the Zuckerman Museum of Art. Last month, the censorship controversy provoked debate across Atlanta’s art community, pitting private artist against institutional authority. But forgotten in the middle were the museum curators and staff - working artists themselves - whose personal convictions had to be separated from professional responsibility. Rabideau explains, “I keep my work life and my studio practice separate, and I think it’s important for the institution that I work at and for my own practice that those two things exist in two different worlds in my mind.”

Rabideau is still not allowed to comment directly on KSU President Papp’s decision to remove Ruth Stanford’s work from the Zuckerman’s opening exhibit, but the Kibbee exhibition gives Atlanta the opportunity to hear his private, creative voice.

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Rabideau is fascinated by the notion of materials having memory. “I’ve always been interested in this idea of specificity of place, and our sense of attachment, or nostalgia, how we connect to a location based on our surroundings,” he says. Since moving to Atlanta, his work has shifted from natural sources like palm fronds and soil to feature the building materials that are so abundant in the city’s constantly changing landscape. The “ebb and flow” of buildings being torn down, or revitalized from the brink of collapse provides a wealth of material resources packed with historical and emotional connotations.

Recently Rabideau has been exploring the intimacy of the home through floorboards, a material that we walk and sit on, that supports and witnesses our everyday interactions. In 2013 his piece “The Distance to the Moon” earned a Best In Show distinction from the High Museum’s Michael Rooks for its power to “suggest the desire to overcome human limitations and frailties, unapologetically and beautifully entering into the realm of emotion.” For the Kibbee exhibition, he is moving upward to include the walls - old-fashioned lath boards used for plastering represent the multiple, unseen layers of interactions in our homes. “There’s a skeleton behind the wall that we never see... and we kind of take it for granted that this armature, this hidden kind of thing surrounds us.”

Using the materials of the landscape around him is Rabideau’s way of exploring a new place and engaging with his environment. Originally from upstate New York, he connected with the southern landscape first as a graduate student at the University of Georgia, where he earned an MFA in Sculpture. After curatorial jobs in Syracuse and Palm Beach, he and his wife decided they needed to live somewhere with a stronger art community. “Atlanta has this art surge happening right now that we wanted to be a part of,” he enthuses.

Rabideau has certainly plunged into the community both professionally and privately, but he says that his duties as Museum Director are only challenging to his studio practice in terms of time management. “Being surrounded by art and working towards all of our upcoming exhibitions and meeting with artists and curators,” he says, “I hope will have a positive influence on my work.”