The works of Massimo Bartolini stem from his exploration of space and perception in relation to the viewer. Space, used, modified or created ex novo by the artist, is not intended solely as a physical, real, and architecturally defined space, but rather seems to shift toward the more intimate and emotional dimension of the human mind. Starting with a given or predefined space or with common furnishing elements, such as bookshelves, beds, benches, or tables, Bartolini modifies principal characteristics of the objects, overturning customary meanings and usages and creating a perceptual sense of dislocation in the viewer.
In Head n.2 (The Studio), 1997–98, an antiseptic room with rounded-off corners is transformed into a mental space, inhabited only by a small wooden folding table with a computer screensaver projected on its surface. A deep bass sound, like a low heartbeat, accompanies visitors who, entering the space one at a time, find themselves alone with the work of art: a reflective pause, in contrast to the velocity and voracity of the contemporary world.
Tamburo (Drum), 2002, consists of a raised floor made of white tiles; horizontally pivoted, the floor moves as people pass over it. The perceptual displacement and consequent loss of certainty that accompanies visitors to the room is accentuated by scattered walnuts that, in response to the movements on the surface, roll around in the space, creating an effect that seems at odds with the structure’s minimalist layout.
In Finestra su finestra (Window on Window), 2002–03, Bartolini seems, instead, to be moving away from the idea of the “white cube.” Invited to show his work in the Manica Lunga at Castello di Rivoli, on the occasion of the exhibition The Moderns, he decided to focus on the tall windows that characterize this unusual seventeenth-century space, formerly used as the Savoy family’s painting gallery. Concentrating on the perception of the surrounding landscape, he created a small room within the space with the floor sloping up toward the window, which he modified and equipped with small openings. Air enters from the slits in the window, while water gushes out, not from a tap, but from the drain of a sink installed in the room. As absorbing as a German Romantic painting, the space opens up to visitors senses, overwhelming in its intimacy. Bartolini’s works cannot be divorced from a relationship with the preexisting space, yet they preserve an innate and autonomous sculptural power. In Lo studio alle 3 (The Studio at 3 a.m.), 1994–2002, a mattress, covered with ceramic floor tiles, becomes a means for representing the artist’s studio, reduced to its essential components. In Pavimento ad occhi chiusi (Floor with Eyes Closed), 1997, however, it is the essential nature of the medium employed that becomes a vehicle for different meanings. An ordinary Venetian blind is transformed into an improbable floor, its surface occupying almost entirely the room in which it is installed, preventing visitors from entering; the work’s inaccessibility underscores the artist’s conception of space as primarily the abstract and intellectual space of the human mind.