© Cleared / image missing


Geelong, Victoria, Australia 1939 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1993

Mirror piece [installation] 1967 Description: An installation of 13 sheets of photocopied text (also exhibited as artist's book) and framed glass mirror

Collection Title: Mirror piece. New York: the artist, 1967
Page: collection record
Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, installation, photocopy, printed in black ink; framed glass mirror Support: paper, glass
Edition State: published state
Impression: 31/35
Edition: edition of 35

Dimensions: sheet (each) 27.5 h x 21.4 w cm Frame 52.8 h x 37.5 w x 2.8 d cm installation 52.8 h x 330.7 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1978
Accession No: NGA 78.844.A-B.1-13
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Works on Paper, Sydney, 1978.

Ian Burn spent more than one third of his 30-year career overseas, where he was to have a key role in the development of international Conceptual Art. Often referred to as Idea Art, the emphasis was not on the work of art, but what it seems in the experience of the viewer.

Through Mirror piece, produced in New York in 1967, Burn explored the idea of looking and seeing, and demanded a new kind of attention and mental participation from the viewer. He purposely used common materials in this work to copy a household bathroom mirror. Burn felt that if the subject matter is familiar, then the familiar object, in this case the mirror, is seen but not looked at. This is further complicated as the reflective quality of the mirror actually denies the surface any observable substance. Instead the viewer, immediately confronted with his or her own image, cannot look past the reflection. To do so would require an ability to look at oneself seeing, thereby presenting a visual paradox.

What is it that we are looking at? By placing glass over the mirror Burn fragmented the image, the qualities of which he explored in the 13 photocopied pages mounted on card and framed alongside the mirror. Burn also included instructions on how to make the mirror piece, as he felt that, once the structure of the work of art was established, the idea could be repeated at random outside the artist’s involvement.

From 1965 to 1970, Burn produced a series of mirror and glass pieces as he continued to explore how we see things. The growth of Conceptual Art in Australia benefitted greatly through the direct link created by Australian artists like Burn, working in New York.

Barbara Poliness 2002

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002