Project coordinated by Dr Matthew Hunter and Dr Francesco Lucchini


Objects, so the anthropological adage goes, are good to think with. But, what kinds of thinking do objects enable or constrain? Through their material facture or embodied virtuosity, are some objects “cleverer” than others? And how might attention to clever objects enable us to reconsider the aesthetic objects privileged by historians of art? Drawing together leading scholars of art from the late middle ages to the twenty first century, this research project aims to explore and define the category of the “clever object” as a tool of art-historical interpretation.

Structure of the Project


Evolved from a successful reading group sponsored by the Research Forum in spring 2008, this inter-institutional project features two major phases that are designed to enhance innovative, collaborative scholarship. Starting in March 2009, the group convenes three times in London as part of the Writing Art History scheme. While the first two-day session was devoted to discussing our topic generally, the second meeting (July 2009) featured presentation and discussion of contributors’ pre-circulated papers on specific objects and their modes of cleverness. In the third meeting (February 2010), contributors will again read and collaboratively discuss revised contributions. The essays will then be prepared and submitted collectively for publication. This format aims to foster an environment of dynamic, collaborative dialogue, which we see as essential to the development of this new interpretive category. Through this targeted research project, we aim to develop the "clever object" as an analytic tool for historians of art working across the discipline and a suggestive conceptual framework amongst practitioners and curators of contemporary art alike. The Clever Object Research Project is designed to provide the opportunity for the intensive collaborative dialogue in which research can germinate and a mechanism by which to bring this important topic readily to the field. 

The Clever Object Research Group


Expanding from the “core group” that met at as a reading group in spring 2008, the Clever Object Research Project includes a chronologically-broad cohort of historians, curators and a prominent contemporary artist. Group members and their period specialisations are:


  • Caroline Arscott (The Courtauld Institute of Art; nineteenth century)
  • Byron Hamann (University of Chicago; sixteenth century)
  • Matthew Hunter (California Institute of Technology; seventeenth/eighteenth century)
  • Francesco Lucchini (The Courtauld Institute of Art; fourteenth century)
  • Christiane Rekade (Independent Curator, Berlin; contemporary)
  • Katie Scott (The Courtauld Institute of Art; eighteenth century)
  • Rachel Wells (The Courtauld Institute of Art; twentieth century)


Additionally, Berlin-based curator Christiane Rekade has recruited two prominent contemporary artists into the project; Ian Kiaer participated to the second meeting in July 2009, while Simon Starling (recipient of the 2005 Turner Prize) will join our final session February 2010.


pdf icon Download Matthew Hunter's introduction to March 2009 session
pdf icon Download Matthew Hunter's introduction to July 2009 session

For further information contact: Matthew Hunter (email: ) and Francesco Lucchini (email: