When it comes to art, Robert Curcio http://www.curcioprojects.com/ is truly a diverse creature. He has been an artist … administrator … curator … he’s one of the founders of the wildly successful Scope Art Fair which I love … and he’s cooking up new art ventures. In short, he’s a renaissance guy who also believes in the accessibility of contemporary art. Read on and enjoy!
MICHAEL: Hey Robert, I'm glad to be talking with you. Let's start with what you're doing right now. Your latest project is www.thegreatnude.tv Even now, it still seems like a daring project here in America because it focuses on ... God forbid ... nudity. Is that the whole point? How did this come about?
ROBERT: Hey Michael, Thanks for inviting me. www.thegreatnude.tv was started by Jeff Wiener a couple of years ago and then I came onboard about a year and a half ago. When Jeff asked me if I was interested in working with him on the site, it seemed like a good fit. I enjoy working on art start-ups and my personal interest lies with art about the figure and human condition.
MICHAEL: So, what’s the purpose of the site?
ROBERT: Jeff started it as a way for artists working with the figure to have a location to exchange thoughts and images of their work. Since figuration has been such a shunned area until recently, the site really acts as a portal for this type of work. The site is about figuration from classical to contemporary and in all media. That means the work can be sexy or erotic, but it has to be more than just that for it to be part of thegreatnude. So far, we've had two issues with censorship. We do these live nude sketch sessions at exhibitions where we invite exhibiting artists and visitors to sketch the models. We've done this in rather public settings without problems, but we were going to do this at an art fair at the Jacob Javits Center here in New York City. Javits management told us NO even if we had the sketching in a closed off area. The sketching sessions were successful although the models had some clothing on.
MICHAEL: You said two issues with censorship?
ROBERT: The other was an image from Odd Nerdrum who was exhibiting in our first invitational. Jeff and I were very excited to have such a legendary great artist and a great guy, wanting to exhibit with us. We were going to use images of Odd's work in all our ads. We sent an ad into one publication with this wonderful 3/4 self portrait Odd did. The publication called us and said, "What are you kidding? We can't print that!" Odd's self portrait included his penis. Jeff forgot that while on his site he can post whatever he wants, in the public sphere you can't. Pushing the whole idea of artistic freedom versus censorship or allowing the nude into the public isn't the main point; it’s a concern and we do report on this when it is relevant.
MICHAEL: It just seems so silly that in this day and age we're still dealing with the fear of nudity, especially in art. It's not like what you're doing is porn. Having said that, what SHOULD website visitors take away from it?
ROBERT: You are so right, but that is the way things are. When visiting the site, people will see what’s happening in contemporary figurative work with interviews with artists, collectors, gallerists and others. They will also see the historical side and by the amount of images on the site, people will see the diversity of what the figure can be. There are instructional videos that give tips to the experienced and beginning artist. For artists who do not have access to nude models, there is a model image section with different poses. We plan to expand on this part since so many artists can't afford a model and the models themselves could use some paying gigs. There are also exhibition listings, news items and more.
MICHAEL: Your site is a great service for artists and visitors. You're an artist, curator, administrator, etc. You were clearly meant to be involved with art. When and why did your relationship with art begin? Do you come from an artistic family?
ROBERT: My dad was a weekend painter. As a kid, I remember going to the Met, MOMA, Guggenheim and others. Also, I remember looking at my dad's art books and his paintings not only in our house, but in relatives’ homes. That’s how I became interested in art. It wasn't looked down upon or seen as a waste of time. I started getting interested in architecture when I was very young and then industrial drawing and studio art classes in high school. Before high school, I got interested in photography also. Then I went to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. I lost a bit of interest in photography and concentrated on mixed media installations. I was and still am a big fan of Robert Longo.
MICHAEL: So am I. Totally!
ROBERT: Also, as part of my work-study, I started to work in the school's gallery doing installation, mailings, and other general work. That's how I got interested in the business end of art. Through it all, I had the encouragement of my parents. It was a great feeling when I curated an abstraction exhibit at a non-profit space and was able to include some of my dad's paintings.
MICHAEL: Wow, that’s cool.
ROBERT: He didn't know exactly what to say or do when people were coming up to him to ask about his paintings. He had a great experience. I have one of the paintings from his exhibit hanging in my apartment next to others of his.
MICHAEL: Your childhood exposure to art is similar to mine, although your experience is more intense. Sometimes I think that unless people are exposed to art early in life, they'll always overlook it and therefore art won't be a priority. What do you think ... and what does art do for you?
ROBERT: Being exposed early and regularly, like anything else, gives you a broader appreciation of the world and what’s possible in your life. Many people do come to the arts at various stages and for different reasons. Some people take a studio or art history class in college. There are others who get into it once they have money and look at art as an investment, a "cool" thing to do. Those people don't really have a clue and usually go onto something else. For me, as long as I'm involved with art, in some manner, I'm happy and my life has a path. To me, this isn't a job or career or something to do to make money, so I can do what I really want to do. This is what I do practically all day, every day and wouldn't change it.
MICHAEL: I love your comments about some people who look at art as an investment. The art world has this love/hate relationship with money and the art market, both of which are absolutely necessary. Of course, everyone wants money and the freedom that it can provide, yet at the same time money can often corrupt artistry. Thoughts?
ROBERT: Money in the art world is a tricky thing. It’s not that it corrupts, it just makes people mindless. Money gets people interested and excited about art, but it’s usually not on any real meaningful level. You should buy or get involved with art because you have a passion to collect. That is smart and makes sense, but if you're buying because the artist is hot, you'll get that spread in Vanity Fair, your "consultant" is telling you how great the piece is or you're thinking in 5 or 10 years that it’s going to be worth a great deal more, you're being mindless. There’s a saying that you buy art with your heart and eyes, and not your ears.
ROBERT: The good news with money in the art world is that school programs grow, established galleries are willing to take chances on young artists, more galleries and alternative spaces open, new publications, and a sense of wanting to support an artist and their vision and all those other personal intangibles happen in different areas. Prices in general go up, municipalities spend money to develop their local "downtown art scene" and more. In the end, more people are exposed to new art, new experiences and new dialog which is terrific.
MICHAEL: Nicely said. I'm really enjoying talking with you because you've worked as an artist, curator, administrator and founder of Scope Art Fair. Obviously, you know art from several vantage points which I hope we can quickly cover here. Given all of the hats you've worn, which do you prefer most? Which role is most clearly YOU?
ROBERT: I was a co-founder of Scope. Actually, I really like it all. I love discovering a new artist who not only has great work, but is great to work with and become friends with. It’s such a blast to see an artist who I worked with go on to bigger and better things. Another part I really love is hanging an exhibit. This is where I reach back to being an artist and whether it’s a solo or group exhibition, I feel I'm creating my own installation. Nothing is more boring to me than an exhibition that is poorly hung or they just put one piece next to another piece ... such a missed opportunity to make a statement or make the work come alive. Most people might be surprised by this, but I also love sales. I'm definitely not a hard selling sales person laying on schmooze galore or talking financial gains in a couple of years. However, with either a serious collector or someone who is just struck by a piece, talking with them and sharing the excitement we both find in the piece and working with them so they walk home with it, is fantastic. I could go on and on because there are so many different aspects that give me so much satisfaction, fulfillment and just fun.
MICHAEL: I find it both funny and sad how people have become so conditioned to think about art. It's like they expect to hear a profound, doctoral thesis about EVERYTHING they see. That's why I'm on my mission and I know you are as well. By the way, are "serious" curators allowed to call art "fun"?
ROBERT: Some people need to hear all that profound stuff so they can justify to themselves why they are buying a piece or justify the price or as the reason for exhibiting the work. I see this with artists who sometimes will write a big thesis instead of a simple artist statement. If you're not having fun or some sense of satisfaction, why bother?
MICHAEL: Exactly. I love going to Art Basel Miami Beach and the Armory Show for the satellite fairs, Scope Art Fair being among them. I love Scope because it's so fresh and progressive. You're one of the founders of Scope. How did that come about?
ROBERT: Scope came about when myself and Alexis Hubshman were not getting into the art fairs. I couldn't get in since I didn't have a gallery and was always rejected or added to a waiting list. Back then, Alexis was still with Rare Gallery and since they were a new gallery, they weren't getting into many fairs. During 2001, we got together and decided to start our own art fair. May 2002 at the Gershwin Hotel NYC was the first Scope with about 22 or 25 galleries and curators exhibiting in the hotel rooms. We had a bunch of performances, panels and parties and created a huge buzz with collectors and others. That year, we did Miami when the first Art Basel Miami Beach happened and that really put us on the map. At the end of 2005, I left to concentrate on curcioprojects and consult on other fairs.
MICHAEL: Wow, good for you guys. That was a bold move. Now Scope is one of the major art fairs and one of my favorites. Tell me about your work as an artist and curcioprojects. What inspires your work? How would you describe it?
ROBERT: curcioprojects is the overall name I give to everything I do from curating, sales to public relations and consulting. As for my work as an artist, I stopped creating in the early 90's. I was the director, curator, pr, installer and just about everything else for this small space back then, working 10, 12 or whatever hour days for weeks on end and then going home to make art. At the same time, I was starting to exhibit and people were interested in my art. Doing both was literally making me sick and after awhile, both started to suffer badly. So I made the decision not to create anymore and just focus on the "business" side. Since that time, I haven't made any art and don't regret it.
MICHAEL: Despite the economy, quite a few art museums across the nation are in the midst of major expansions yet on the other end of the spectrum, emerging artists continue to struggle. What do you think this is all about?
ROBERT: Many artists and newer or smaller galleries and alternative spaces are still struggling mainly because their base of funding (sales, donations, grants, etc) is at the same level they were in the past. A small museum is going to have smaller donors to work with similarly like an emerging artist is going to have a collector that can only spend so much. But a museum that can manage a major expansion has major donors and the museum can spend more time pursuing a capital campaign. The museum could have gone to their big donors three to five years ago asking for millions of dollars and just started building in the past year.
MICHAEL: It looks like art will always be the domain of the wealthy. What do you think it’ll take to get every day people to understand that art really exists for them?
ROBERT: I think "everyday" people are learning that art can exist for everyone, not just the wealthy. In the past few years, a number of sites have started selling editions and originals at very reasonable prices and reaching a diverse audience. Some galleries are also doing this with special editions or an "Artist of the Month" plan. I've been to many benefits over the years where people are very excited about purchasing their first piece and then go looking for their next purchase. Also, look at the growth in attendance at museums. I'm not exactly sure of the numbers, but attendance has been growing at a very steady pace even if there wasn't a blockbuster exhibit to see. People are buying the audio tours and there is always a bunch of tours led by a docent everywhere you look in a museum. This shows that people are interested and want to learn and have that art experience. Granted, the majority of everyday people are not going to wander into Sotheby's to bid on a Picasso or go to Chelsea specifically to purchase the work of the hottest overpriced artist. But, they are starting to understand Picasso and what came afterward and they read about artists more and more in general publications. As people begin to educate and demystify art for themselves and they realize they can purchase a piece of art within their budget, then everyday people will end up with a great collection that they really appreciate.
MICHAEL: Finally Robert, What are your future plans?
ROBERT: The future of curcioprojects is wide open and ready for anything. I don't have a specific goal, except to continue working on different projects that I find exciting, interesting and have something different to offer. This is what makes it all challenging, fun and worthwhile. The real accomplishment is to not have a certain goal, but to have a life that you have lived well and for me that includes every aspect of art. The immediate future is about two big projects: the Contemporary Art Fair NYC in November and Galerie Richard. CAFNYC is a fair for artists, curators and organizations, no galleries. While I didn't start the fair, I hope I'm able to grow it into a premier fair for diverse contemporary artists. Galerie Richard has operated for 20 years in Paris and this Sept will open a branch in Chelsea. I'm working with them on their media campaign to announce the gallery opening and their first exhibit of Paul Henry Ramirez, whom I'm a BIG fan of. Both projects I'm very excited about and hope to be involved with both for a long time.
MICHAEL: Well, this has really been fun. It’s great to chat with someone who loves art in the same way that I do. I wish you the very best in all that you do.
If you’d like to find out more about Robert’s projects, check out these websites: http://www.curcioprojects.com/