I first came across the wonderful Cura magazine thanks to a pufferfish—the striking creature leaps off the front cover of Cura 23 and schlumps its way into your heart. Thankfully once you’re beyond the cover, there’s a hell of a lot more to Cura than just a squishy fishy. Besides being a printed publication, Cura is also a publishing house and an international exhibition program that creates shows in collaboration with museums, foundations, galleries, institutions, and individuals. A large part of its work involves research into the nature of curation itself, looking at “new contemporary languages” in the field and possibilities around developing and implementing new formats for exhibitions.

Part of this happens through the Cura-owned Basement Roma site in Rome, designed as a “self-sustainable project space” for “experimentation, discussion, and the promotion of artists’ practices.” Each strand of what Cura does feeds into the other, though the beauty of the whole conceptual thing is that when you pick up the magazine you don’t really have to know any of that: it works just as well alone as it does as part of its wider family.

Cura 23 cover

The print publication was born, like the rest of its stable, in 2009, and is helmed by editors in chief Ilaria Marotta and Andrea Baccin, whose backgrounds comprise “art history, institutional experience, museums, curatorship, writing, communication, and creative direction,” they tell us, with the rather gorgeous design courtesy of Walter Santomauro. The English language mag brings us the usual arts mag fodder of (occasionally slightly impenetrable) features along with visual essays, in-conversation style pieces, critical texts, and discussions with gallerists about the art they present and how they present it.

“The different sections allow the exploration and presentation of a wide range of artistic practices and are the facets of a single and organic research project, conducted through the pages of the magazine and also developed within the other activities of the Cura platform,” the team explains. “The paper medium is intended as a dynamic and flexible exhibition space in constant evolution, where the reader can discover the most interesting expressions of contemporary visual arts.”

Marotta and Baccin add that while “the interests of the magazine and exhibition projects coincide,” they are simply two different ways of dealing with the same issues: “The important thing is never to have a definite idea of how things should be. Art can have many different forms.”

Call me obsessed, but I’m keen to get back to that pufferfish. The image is by Canadian artist Jon Rafman, who is perhaps best known for his Google Street View image series 9-Eyes, a beguiling presentation of the strange everyday scenes captured by the unseen robots that plow the world’s streets and furrows for the data by which we navigate our lives. His fish, by contrast, is instantly ludicrous, cute, and weird. In short, it’s the perfect image for a newsstand. So what do Cura’s makers deem to make a perfect cover? “We prefer to focus on strong and communicative artworks that hold their own strength and impact, regardless of an artist’s career.”

They certainly don’t give too much away, this lot. We try to coax them into telling us the typefaces they use for body copy and headlines. “It’s a family secret,” we’re told. What of the rest of the design then? “Cura has always featured clean, legible, non-taxing editorial graphics for its contents,” say Marotta and Baccin. “We like to treat art as if we were a fashion magazine where images, alongside texts and interviews, are featured widely.”

What they do reveal is that the current design—image heavy, but with powerful typographic treatments, experimental approaches to column widths and layouts—is one that’s taken a while to perfect. “We have changed our graphic design several times; we have redesigned our logo, and every new issue introduces some change,” says the team.

“In general, we move with our perspective of the changing world. We are interested in watching changes in art, and watching how new generations of artists approach a changed reality. Artists have always been tied to reality, and have kept changing the way they are engaged politically or socially, adopting new garments or new materials.”

It’s a complex response, that’s for sure: but then Cura is a complex operation. What’s simple enough is its offer, which no other magazine can currently match. Long may that continue, whatever new garments it cares to sport in future.