Originally from upstate New York, where he received his BFA in printmaking and sculpture from SUNY Plattsburgh, Rabideau first relocated to Georgia in 2003 to pursue an MFA in sculpture at the University of Georgia in Athens. Following his graduation from UGA, Rabideau worked as a preparator and curatorial assistant at institutions including the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, and the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, FL. He moved to Atlanta in 2011, working as a production manager at a design and sculpture company before accepting a position as director of the fledgling Zuckerman Museum of Art.
In addition to his work in museums and as an educator, Rabideau exhibited regularly in Atlanta, was a 2011 artist-in-residence with The Creatives Project, and participated in residencies at the Hambidge Center and Elsewhere in Greensboro, NC. Rabideau’s practice as a sculptor often involved salvaging and repurposing discarded wood and other materials. He spoke about this process in terms of directly connecting his materials with the neighborhoods and spaces in which they were found, “referencing notions of gentrification, object history, cultural wastefulness, and hidden beauty.”
In 2015, Rabideau collaborated with artist Megan Mosholder to create Sailor’s Valentine, an immersive, large-scale installation commissioned by Art on the BeltLine. This project, like much of Rabideau’s work, expanded upon craft-based traditions to develop a sculptural language that is both abstract and deeply personal. More recently, Rabideau’s installation Searching our Foundations Tangled like Roots was included in “Golden Hour,” the site-specific exhibition presented by Dashboard in Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery earlier this year. During his time in Atlanta, Rabideau participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at Marcia Wood Gallery, The Mammal Gallery, MINT, and elsewhere.
In 2004, during his time as a graduate student at UGA, Rabideau met Kate McLeod. They began dating in 2008 and were married in 2010. Although the couple divorced after eight years, McLeod says they “never stopped having love for each other” and that they “were at peace” at the time of Rabideau’s passing. In a phone conversation with BA, McLeod linked Rabideau’s interests in art-making and craft traditions to his experience growing up in a home his father had built himself. She pointed out that, while he was growing up, Rabideau’s family pursued activities such as beekeeping and candle-making while also familiarizing him with art museums, cultivating a powerful sense of wonder. As a result of this unbridled curiosity, McLeod described how Rabideau would teach himself nearly any folk craft imaginable using online tutorials and YouTube videos. “He taught himself basketweaving,” she said, and then, laughing, “He taught himself fucking glassblowing! Who does that?”
When asked about Rabideau’s work at the Zuckerman and other museums, McLeod said, “Justin loved spending time with people and being able to connect artists to each other and the public, and museums were a place for him to do that.” She voiced Rabideau’s belief in the power of showing important work at the Zuckerman regardless of the reactionary pushback it received from KSU administration and conservative state lawmakers—not an infrequent occurrence during his tenure at the museum. “He was always about the artists,” McLeod said, “and fiercely protected the artistic license of the curators and artists he worked with.”
McLeod said Rabideau was “amazed” by his colleagues at the Zuckerman—curators Teresa Bramlette Reeves and Sarah Higgins—”almost to a fault.”
“He wanted women curators to feel genuinely empowered,” McLeod said. “And it wasn’t an issue of checking a diversity checkbox: he was always so excited to talk about what Sarah and Teresa were working on. He encouraged his staff—and the rest of us—to see the world as a beautiful place.”
Rabideau’s close friend, Atlanta-based artist Ben Coleman, expressed similar sentiments in an email to BA. “Justin was a beautiful man who made beautiful art and recognized the beauty in people,” he wrote. “As I got to know and grew to love Justin, I learned that under his gentle, easygoing manner was a sensitive, contemplative spirit. He was fiercely loyal, deeply romantic, quick to laugh, and had an infectious smile. He cared deeply for his friends.”
“As an artist and advocate for artists, his boundless passion was a spring that washed over the boundaries of his own practice to irrigate the creative culture of our whole region,” Coleman continued. “He fought tirelessly for artists. His contribution will doubtless be felt for many years to come. I am just one of countless artists who benefited from his generosity and support, whether it was making his studio and tools available to me in a deadline crunch, or on the occasions he was my inspiring collaborator. I loved talking to him about our ideas and the work of other artists. His enthusiasm was energizing and contagious.”
“For those who knew Justin in any capacity, our loss is incalculable. He enriched and enhanced our lives in more ways than I can identify. While his absence will always be felt, so will the love, inspiration, and beauty he brought to us,” Coleman said.
At the conclusion of our phone conversation, McLeod said, “Justin was very loved by so many people. I know he was in a dark place, but I wish he knew how loved he was.”
Coleman, along with Rabideau’s family and friends, have organized a memorial for Rabideau to be held at the Goat Farm Arts Center on Sunday, November 11 from 1 to 4 pm. Find more details about the event here.
Condolences to Rabideau’s colleagues at the Zuckerman Museum can be mailed to the address below: