Life of the Party – Giovanni DeCunto
DeCunto has been married once—to a 21-year-old Brazilian singer, with whom he moved to Brazil for several years before getting a divorce. The experience hardly soured him on romance, though. A few days after I meet DeCunto in his studio, we go out on the town, meeting first for drinks at the North End restaurant Lucca. DeCunto is preoccupied by a painting, taking until his second glass of white wine to even get his coat off. After he does, he shoots long glances at our waitress. "She has a real regal look," he muses. "I wonder if she is a dancer." When she comes back with the check, he asks her just that.
We grab a cab to the Liberty Hotel, where a fashion show is going on, drum and bass pounding while Christmas lights climb the balconies and cocktails crowd the bar. "I might get bored," DeCunto warns as we walk in. "This is not really my scene." No matter. In almost no time at all he is circulating through the crowd, greeting several partygoers, stopping to talk with a pair of women by the bar.
DeCunto insists he isn’t hitting on the women he pulls onto the dance floor. "It’s not a sexual thing," he says. "It’s just dancing. I can tell if a girl wants to dance—it’s a premonition." Adeli says he’s seen many women melt under DeCunto’s attentions. "Maybe for the first couple of minutes, they are, like, Who is this weirdo?" he says. "After three or four minutes, they realize that he is 10 times the dancer they are and are trying to keep up."
Not everyone is impressed, though. "He shows up to parties with kids just out of college," says a South End restaurant manager, who asked not to be named. "At a certain point, that’s not okay. He’s very nice, so I can see the attraction, but I don’t get it." For his part, DeCunto is defiant about remaining youthful: "You’ll never get my age," he says. If he’s aware of the impropriety of an older man hauling a twentysomething socialite to the dance floor, he doesn’t show it. "I’m in an extended state of adolescence," he says.
There’s no dance music tonight at the Liberty, however, and it’s not long before DeCunto is standing to one side, watching the procession of dark jackets and little black dresses. "You see these people and their haircuts, all trying to fit in," he sighs. "It’s the job of the artist to open it up." Just then, a model he’s been looking for all night walks by, and he brightens. "He’s the greatest," she gushes, kissing him on the cheek. "She’s going to be in my next video," DeCunto says, referring to his latest project: performance art in which he paints designer dresses while models are wearing them.
Hang out with DeCunto long enough, and you realize that this part of his life is also his work. Sometimes his actions are cringe-inducing (as when he tells a waitress, "I’m getting hungry just looking at you"), but his magnetism is real. Countless times, the people we pass think they know him. "Are you from St. Thomas?" a man calls after him at the party. "Sure!" DeCunto shouts back without stopping. A woman on the street reaches out to get his attention, and he kisses her on the cheek. I watch him strike up conversations with everyone—a Bentley dealer, a busboy. He almost comes to blows with a punk with a pencil-line beard after DeCunto asks him if he’s the valet; a few minutes later they are hugging.
DeCunto takes the role of an artist—the one he decided on early in life—very seriously. "I have a way of pissing people off," he admits. "If there is a boundary, I will find it. But they won’t stay pissed off. Because my job is to have no boundaries." Seen that way, his antics don’t detract from his art: They are part of it, as important as anything hanging on his studio wall.