Volume 78 / Number 12, August 20 - 26, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Courtesy Umbrella Arts

Ginna Triplett, “Peace”

A wizard behind the curtain winks
Rob Curcio wears a lot of different hats

Through August 31
Umbrella Arts
317 East Ninth Street
(212) 505-7196; umbrellaarts.com

BY Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

All around nice guy, soft spoken, quick to laugh and slow to kvetch—Rob Curcio has a lot of irons in the fire. As an art world mover and shaker he performs myriad duties, from writing to curating. Whether he’s organizing a festival or marketing a publication, his trademark personal touch is perennially smooth.

A native of Brooklyn and Long island, the omnibudsman began as an installation artist graduating from the Tyler School of Art at Temple in Philadelphia. He’s lived in the East Village since 1991.

“I’ve been coming here ever since ’80 as a kid in high school,” Rob told me, adding that later on, “I used to come down to see the galleries. I’ve seen the East Village change and I’ve always thought it’s a great place. There’s always been some sort of action.”

As so many dealers, Curcio began his foray into the artworld as an artist. “I started off as a mixed media type/installation artist. Then I was making text and painting on glass and started to show at PDG.” Patrick D. Goldsmith was one of the last of the East Village galleries to survive the heady heydays of the ’80s. Goldsmith also showed Gae Savannah (who is in the current show at Umbrella) and hosted poetry readings.

After the gallery closed, Curcio switched gears. “I stopped making stuff in ’92 and just concentrated on the business/promotion side, whatever you want to call it.”

Bitten by the curating bug, he began working with Ward Nasse Gallery in Soho. In addition to producing art shows he invited poets like Max Blagg and Hal Sirowitz to read. He recruited other organizers and the gallery also hosted open video screenings, cabaret nights and performances.

After that, Curcio ran his own gallery in the East Village for two years. But the East Village scene was toast by then and presciently Curcio gravitated toward the Meatpacking district. “Between ’97 and ’02, I was doing everything. Curating… writing… events.” He wrote for “Cover,” “Artnews,” “Sculpture,” “Tema Celeste,” and “Zing.” among others.

Expanding his scope (literally) he started the Scope art festival with a partner, Alexis Hubshman. “The very first one happened in May of 2002 at the Gerswhin Hotel. That one took us eight months to organize. By the time we got to the Gansevoort we were doing four or five a year between Miami, LA and New York. We would have up to 60 galleries represented.”

I remember the fun and freewheeling spirit of Scope at the Gansevoort Hotel. Each gallery or artist had a room. Rob was hanging out with the husband-wife team called Praxis. They were breaking every rule in the book.

For starters, they gave every one a dollar and asked them to draw on it for a quilt project. Of course, it’s illegal to deface currency. Then the happy couple got naked and jumped in bed. And about that time somebody popped up with a big fat jay… talk about tweaking the establishment!

Though not a part of the Scope team any more, Curcio is still involved with consulting and working with a few art fairs. He also helps with marketing and expanding the Toronto-based magazine “Dart International.”

Currently, Curcio is the guest curator of an open invitation show in the East Village at the Umbrella Gallery on East Ninth Street. Taking advantage of the two owners’ summer vacation, Curcio approached Margaret Bodell and Mary Ann Fahey. Bodell has been a fixture in the East Village art scene for two decades. She made a name for herself specializing in outsider art.

Describing his own vision, Curcio says, “I like work that has some sort of reference to the human condition. That could be something very figurative like Robert Gary’s work or something very abstract like Gae’s work. I’ve stayed with a small group of artists.”

Both Gary and Gae Savannah are in the show up now at Umbrella along with three dozen others. Gary’s fine oil painting is a portrait of a neighborhood homeless man nicknamed “Starvin’ Marvin.” His wrinkled-up expression exudes a “Wassup?” ambience. Savannah’s festive orange lamp is the only sculpture in the show.

Other artists include Conrad Vogel (represented by a nascent stencil painting from 1986), Jason Song, Jeffrey Rakien, and Cindy Ruskin. Valery Oisteanu calls on his Dadaist arsenal to present a collage on painting of Duchamp doing Dali or something akin.

A solo show for Ginna Triplett inaugurated Curcio’ summer run and was reviewed in “Resolve.”

Operating on many levels as Curcio does, makes for lots of friends and opportunities. “After all these years of doing all these different things, I know a few people. So it’s nice to try to get everyone connected.”

Reaching out once again, Curcio has earned some angel wings. “Something I’ve been involved in for the past two years is the Center Against Domestic Violence. I help with their annual silent art benefit.”

You know, speaking of benefits… it seems everyone benefits from having Rob Curcio around.

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