The first book on the art-world legend who installed his ephemeral sculptures on the streets of New York's East Village.
Curtis Cuffie was an artist who lived and worked in and around the East Village from the mid-1980s until his death in 2002. He moved to New York from Hartsville, South Carolina, as a teenager and lived unhoused for long stretches of his adult life. Cuffie found local notoriety for the way he adorned the streets of downtown New York, collecting what the city provided, often sifting trash to stage on-the-spot sculptures along the Bowery and Cooper Square. His arrangements took the form of impossibly balanced towers, delicate shrines, and unwieldy processions up to thirty-feet in length installed along the walls, fences, and sidewalks of the Lower East Side. Nearly without fail they were removed by inclement weather, the department of sanitation, or the grounds team at Cooper Union, which would later employ him.
An enduring presence in the East Village, Cuffie's sprawling tableaux outside the Village Voice
offices were admired by students and venerable artists alike. He was profiled by scene reporters, political writers, and folk-art journalists, all the while exhibiting in the neighborhood's famed alternative art spaces. While few of his sculptures remain today, a trove of photographs from the 1990s taken by Cuffie and his companion Katy Abel preserve the work he made in the city.
This photobook, the first publication about Cuffie, seeks to honor the artist by collecting the efforts of two of his partners: Carol Thompson, who lived with Cuffie from 1996 to 2001 and archived a great number of his 35mm photographs, and Abel, a Cooper Square resident who took hundreds of snapshots of his art. Curtis Cuffie
is designed by Julie Peeters, edited by Scott Portnoy and Robert Snowden with Ciarán Finlayson
, and additionally includes writing by the artist, Finlayson, and critic Alan Moore, and images taken by Tom Warren and Margaret Morton.
Curtis Cuffie (1955-2002) was an artist based in New York City's East Village. Originally from Hartsville, South Carolina, he moved to Brooklyn at fifteen and eventually settled in Manhattan, first near Bryant Park and later around the Bowery. Homeless for long stretches of time, Cuffie became well-known in the 1990s for the sculptures he made using found materials, which he installed in public spaces downtown. Artforum
, the New York Times
, and the Village Voice
all profiled and reviewed his work. and he held solo exhibitions at Flamingo East, Tribes, and 4th Street Photo Gallery, all in the Lower East Side. In his lifetime, Cuffie was featured in nearly a dozen group shows across the US at venues including Exit Art, American Primitive, and the Jamaica Art Center in New York, and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. His work was included in "Souls Grown Diaspora," curated by Sam Gordon, at Apexart in 2020 and "Greater New York" at MoMA PS1 in 2021–22, both in New York.