Leah Oates is an artist and writer based New York. Robert Curcio is an independent curator, writer, private dealer, and co-founder of Scope Art Fair, Inc.
Leah Oates: When did your interest in the arts begin and when did you know that you where going to be a curator and arts organizer?
Robert Curcio: I started out as an artist graduating from Tyler School of Art in Philly. After school I started exhibiting and working for galleries and some artists. Then in 1989, I curated my first exhibit—a large photography group exhibit. I curated a few large photo exhibits back then that were the first exhibits for many people like Gerald Slota and Simen Johan. Around 1993 or so, I stopped making art all together. I actually gave away my supplies to a few artists I knew.
LO: Have your goals for yourself changed from when you began in the arts as opposed to now?
RC: My goals, either as an artist or organizer, have always been to create something new, intriguing. To continually change is to reach a diverse audience. Got to keep it interesting. To reach these goals, my methods have varied over the years as an artist, curator, writer, dealer, fundraiser, and a host of other hats that I’m always mixing and matching.
LO: You are one of the original founders of the Scope Art Fair, and I believe the idea was yours to have the fair in hotel rooms? How did the fair develop and change over the years?
RC: We weren’t the first to have an art fair in a hotel, it started with The Armory Show when the first ones were held at The Gramercy Hotel. We used the hotel idea since it makes financial sense for new young galleries, and then expanded upon that with panels, performances, film/video screens, a silent auction, curatorial projects, all night parties, and other ideas to create a varied cultural experience to separate Scope from the traditional fairs.
The exhibitors were selected to create an experience, not just a trade fair, with one room having a gallery showing outsider artists, another maybe an older established gallery showing a new young unknown artist, the next could be a curatorial project from a young curator or art historian just out of school, making the whole experience a more diverse adventure.
Then the young galleries became the young establishment wanting to exhibit bigger artworks or projects with bigger asking prices, which meant moving away from the hotels to a booth situation. Once we started thinking about moving to booths, it started to become “business as usual,” not quite the traditional big business fair, but close enough for me to move on. I loved being involved in the beginning, really being hands-on in helping to instigate change. What is going on now, since the early hotel days, is phenomenal. I’m very proud and happy with what Scope has become.
LO: How would you compare fairs that are held in hotel rooms to those that are held in booths? Some fairs seem perfect in booths while others seem better in hotel rooms. Why is that?
RC: A hotel fair has a certain intimacy that is very difficult to have in a booth, which I find to be a very unique experience in an art world focused on big white empty spaces. Also, in a hotel, the gallery is forced be very creative in what and how they show making for some very interesting installations and choices of art. These gallerists have to plan what fits where, how to work either around or with the furniture, lighting and other issues which creates a lot of extra challenges.
LO: What do you think is the impact of so many art fairs on the art market, on artists and on galleries and collectors? It sometimes seems like a big art department store, or simply a trade fair for arts. This is not to diminish the art, or the galleries, which can be amazing. I’m just not so convinced it’s the best way to view art, and sometimes [I] think that the work that succeed[s] in this environment has an element of spectacle or “pranksterism.” Any thoughts on this?
RC: It is very much a mix—including some great aspects, and some not so good [ones.] Some of the extraordinary aspects are that younger, previously unknown galleries from smaller art communities can receive a new type of exposure. Participating in the art fairs helps them and their artists reach a sometimes international audience.
I actually think the idea of one-stop shopping might just be one of the best things about fairs. Collectors, curators, consultants, etcetera can’t travel the world to see every artist or gallery. A fair brings that all together. A fair is very much about spectacle. It’s the show business of art, which is a fantastic way for galleries and artists to make sales and gain exposure. However, it’s important to know that I believe [that] to really see and understand an artist and [his] work, an actual exhibition is the best way.
LO: Please speak about what you are working in now and in 2008.
RC: I’m involved with a number of new projects that I am quite excited about. After leaving Scope I said I would never again be on the management side of an art fair. Well, two years later that has obviously changed with starting a new fair, and advising the Bridge Art Fairs.
Sightline is a new fair focused on the Hudson Valley art scene that I am producing with Carl van Brunt of Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, NY for May 08. Since 2005, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Beacon, Peekskill, Hudson, Catskill and other areas meeting many great artists, collectors, writers, curators, and institutions like Dia and Art Omi. The Hudson Valley isn’t a backwater retreat from New York City and the arts are starting to make a difference throughout the region. Next May is an ideal time to launch Sightline during Dia’s fifth anniversary celebration, and Beacon is a perfect location about an hour from New York, and is the nexus of travel to all the surrounding states.
Recently, I became a part of the new advisory board for Bridge Art Fairs, which is changing and growing to become a new model of an art fair. I wasn’t involved with Bridge, Miami in December, but with their first New York City fair at the Terminal Warehouse in Chelsea, March 27 to 30, I will be very involved.
I will also be getting back to writing after a long absence, which I’m very much looking forward to. I just wrote an article as an introduction to art fairs for the uninitiated for [the] Hudson Valley Museum and Gallery Guide. Many people remember me from the Canadian magazine, d’Art International, for my profiles of Mike Bidlo, Robert Longo and other artists, which I will be writing again.