Objects, so the anthropological adage goes, are good to think with. But, what kinds of thinking do objects enable or constrain? Are some objects “cleverer” than others? Is the cleverness of an object always subservient to the intentions of its maker or its interpreter? Or is there such a thing as an “object-specific” intelligence?

This research project aims to explore how specific objects materialize, embody, or negotiate various forms of intelligence. Our aim is not to survey the important literatures on material culture, nor to ask after the ontology of “the thing” in the abstract. Instead, contributors from medieval through contemporary periods will consider how objects may be seen to possess specific forms of intelligence through material facture and embodied virtuosity. In turn, through attention to clever objects and their subjects, our research project seeks to enable reconsideration of the aesthetic objects privileged by histories of art.

In 2007-08, the group met once a week from 14 May to 19 June 2008 in the Courtauld Institute of Art Research Forum. The group, which is open to all interested scholars and researchers, will continue to meet in 2008-09. Dates and times will be posted shortly.

For further information contact: Matthew Hunter (email: mchunter@uchicago.edu) and Francesco Lucchini (email: Francesco.Lucchini@courtauld.ac.uk).


2007-08 Programme:


Wednesday 14 May
14.30 - 16.30, Research Forum South Room

Introducing the Problem

Alfred Gell, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps,” in The Art of Anthropology: Essays and Diagrams, ed. E. Hirsch (London: Athlone Press, 1999), 187-214

Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Antilochus’ Race,” in Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. J. Lloyd (London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 11-26.


Thursday 22 May

14.30 - 16.30, Research Forum South Room

Mind in Material Culture

Jules David Prown, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method,” in Art as Evidence: Writings on Art and Material Culture (London: Yale University Press, 2001), 69-95.

Alfred Gell, “The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology,” in The Art of Anthropology: Essays and Diagrams, ed. E. Hirsch (London: Athlone Press, 1999), 159-186.


Thursday 22 May

10.00 - 12.00, Research Forum South Room

Facture and Theory-Building

Joseph Koerner, “Factura,” Res 36 (1999): 5-19.

Michael Baxandall, “Material” and “Period Eye,” in The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany (London: Yale University Press, 1980), 27-48; 143-163.


Wednesday 4 June
14.30 - 16.30, Research Forum South Room

What Do Objects Really Know?

Peter Galison, “Cloud Chambers: The Peculiar Genius of British Physics,” in Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics (London: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 65-142.

Pamela H. Smith, “Artisanal Epistemology,” in The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (London: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 59-94.


Wednesday 11 June
13.00 - 15.00, Research Forum South Room

Ingenious Objects

Michael Cole, “Salt, Composition, and the Goldsmith’s Intelligence,” in Cellini and the Principles of Sculpture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 15-42.

George Basalla, “Transformed Utilitarian Objects,” Winterthur Portfolio 17 (1982): 183–201.


Thursday 19 June

14.30 - 16.30, Wellcome Trust
Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE (meeting in exhibition space)

Textual Cleverness

Bruno Latour, “Drawing Things Together,” in Representation in Scientific Practice, eds. M. Lynch and S. Woolgar (London: MIT Press, 1990), 19-68.

Christopher Wood, “Riegl’s Mache,” Res 46 (2004): 155-172.


A summary of each session can be accessed here.