This week, Atlanta will welcome its first new art museum in more than a decade. After 15 years of planning and fundraising, the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University is opening its doors. Featuring performances from both local professionals and student art organizations, the opening night inaugurates the museum's role as what Director Justin Rabideau believes is a space of discovery and conversation between the university and the greater arts community. "All of those experiences are meant to heighten that sense of exploration and discovering and your awareness of place," Rabideau says.
"The arts are so strongly integrated into the KSU campus," he continues. "When we started thinking about an opening, what emerged was not only to highlight this fantastic new museum and our collection but to highlight the arts of all kinds here at KSU." KSU musical groups and the improv troupe will showcase their talents during the grand opening, joined by KSU professor and successful Atlanta baritone Oral Moses. Visitors can also experience a hidden space with a behind-the scenes tour of the Stillwell Theater.
The museum space is translated into movement in choir b, a physical installation created by gloATL's Lauri Stallings. Originally intended for the Georgia Museum of Art, choir b has been reshaped and adapted to the Zuckerman space. Stallings says of the building, "You can sense the eruption of the space. Meticulousness has gathered over time, it's ready to introduce itself to the city." Moving sculptures, moments of scripted dialogue, and a pad of sod installed inside the museum all appear in Stallings' highly theoretical but also playful dialogue between the permanent object and the ephemeral experience. With so many artistic explorations happening, Rabideau promises that the event will be a joyful celebration, delighting and intriguing visitors in unexpected locations.
But supporting this explorative atmosphere is the artwork, a foundation in more ways than one. The inaugural central exhibit, See Through Walls, takes buildings themselves as its subject, questioning the physical and psychological dimensions of division, articulation, support, and structure. Fourteen artists from Atlanta and across the nation contributed works, some carefully choosing existing pieces with the assistance of curators Teresa Bramlette Reeves and Kirstie Tepper, and some traveling to the museum for on-site commissions. Ben Goldman of the Kibbee Gallery, for example, has created a video installation on the cyclical nature of the human condition. New York-based Bethany Collins uses chalked text on blackboard paint to create shapes of a bomb's path, a dust cloud, white noise.
The chosen opening exhibition is particularly telling of the hybrid direction Rabideau and his staff plan on taking the museum, a dual role leading the university community and an important destination for Atlanta art. "Our museum, I see it as a laboratory, it's a place where we can experiment and think about new places and new concepts and bring lots of different people together in one space to create these dialogues," he says.
As the front porch of the university, the Zuckerman will focus strongly on developing opportunities for education, and collaborate further with both student and community outreach groups. Along with collaborations with WonderRoot and the Clarkson Community Center, the museum has already jumped in to help produce the 31st annual Visions Student Art exhibition, which will be on display at the grand opening. The university setting seems to inform as well the Zuckerman's rigorously research-based curatorial style. "We've been actively doing studio visits in the local community and on a national level, speaking with artists, looking at other exhibitions that they've done," Rabideau says.
It has been a long and winding road to get to those specific decisions from a conversation started 15 years ago by the museum's namesake Bernard A. Zuckerman with KSU about creating a space to feature the work of his wife, Ruth, alongside the department's growing collection. Fundraising began immediately, and after a $2 million initiative from Zuckerman in 2010, enough momentum gathered to fulfill Zuckerman's dream of seeing his wife's sculptures on display. The museum plans to rotate Ruth Zuckerman's work, as well as other pieces from the permanent collection, in context with and alongside the featured exhibit. Rabideau says, "We really are trying to break that wall between those gallery spaces down and utilize our collection, contextualizing and really setting up an area for dialogue between those different approaches of art making."
He also jokes about the museum's physical connection with the city: "When people hear we're in Kennesaw, they say, 'What is that, an hour away?' But in reality we're 20 minutes from Midtown!" The museum needs to break down that mental boundary as well, but Rabideau believes, "If we do our work, which is presenting curatorial work, strong exhibitions of important, poignant works of art and presenting that to the public, then I think people will come."
And when they do come, the museum's unique situation as both educational institution and cultural destination will be a fitting stimulation for the kind of explorative engagement that the grand opening hints at. A museum by definition as a building serves as a container for art, but the Zuckerman Museum of Art is attempting to see through its own walls. The museum is linking communities, breaking down silos, and encouraging conversation - establishing itself as a defined space with undefined limits.
Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art Grand Opening on Sat., March 1 at 6:30 pm. More details at KSU.
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