Clegg & Guttmann


In this complex yet amusing exhibition, “Studiolo Nuovo,” which Lia Rumma installed in Milan after showing it in her space in Naples, Clegg & Guttmann take as their point of departure the Renaissance studiolo, or study—a private place, crowded with diverse objects, and specifically set aside not so much for the contemplation of art as for the development of thinking. Works of art were kept in these spaces, but so were musical and scientific instruments and natural objects. In this environment, seeing was inextricably linked to thought. Painting, Leonardo said, is a mental thing; Clegg & Guttmann are merely two of the most recent participants in this long Conceptualist tradition.

In this gallery-cum-studiolo, Clegg & Guttmann presented five wooden structures that could be activated to create forms, images, and sounds. In the first structure, Esercizio Cognitivo I: la musica della sfera (Cognitive Experiment I: The Music of the Sphere), 2007, built like a geodesic dome, a keyboard invited us to play—but the keys were marked with geometric shapes that also appeared as slide projections inside the sphere; following the symbols, one produced a musical phrase. The second structure, Esercizio Cognitivo II: la libreria piramidale (Cognitive Experiment II: The Pyramidal Bookshelf), 2007, was a pyramidal bookcase. Bookends bore handwritten indications of the categories by which the books were classified, but the categories, provided by viewers and constantly changing, were often bizarre. Near the back wall, there was a device for playing music, Esercizio Cognitivo III: il canone (Cognitive Experiment III: The Canon), 2007, a sort of booth with holes for the head and hands allowing one to play a mandolin inside it.

The two last sculptures were akin to machines for drawing. In Esercizio Cognitivo IV: l’oggetto nascosto (Cognitive Experiment IV: The Hidden Object), 2007, a classical statue was housed inside a structure that prevented it from being seen but allowed tactile contact. Visitors could slip their hands into a series of holes, while chalk and blackboards invited them to draw with one hand what the other hand blindly touched. The final and most complex apparatus called for the participation of five spectators. The work, Esercizio Cognitivo V: cinque ciechi (Cognitive Experiment V: Five Blind Men), 2007, directs one of them to put on a green apron, open at the back, and to draw a shape—any shape—using a stick and working directly on the back of one of the others who, in turn, will do the same with the next partner, and so on, up to the last person, who is asked to actually draw with white chalk on a blackboard the shape that he feels on his back. This work explicitly refers to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Blind Leading the Blind and at the same time to Dennis Oppenheim, who worked similarly with his own young child in the video A Feedback Situation, 1971. In fact, a similar shift of meaning left its trace on the exhibition itself. The “mental thing” that is art as we understand it originated with the early Renaissance revival of Neoplatonism; traversing history, it kindled a wide range of practices and ideas. Yet as much as Clegg & Guttmann draw on this legacy, their work actually seems to overturn the Platonism that was its point of departure. Here, thinking means working with all the senses, without hierarchies, involving the body as well as the mind.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.