Ian Burn


Ian Burn was born in Geelong, Victoria in 1939 and lived and worked in Sydney, New South Wales. Burn was a widely exhibited, influential and pioneering conceptual artist, writer and curator. In 1965, Burn moved to London where he began to consider the role that language plays in art. In London, Burn completed a series of minimal and abstract geometric paintings that precipitated his next steps in his art practice. Two years later, Burn had moved to New York where he worked at the centre of the early Conceptual art movement and was described as “the only Australian ever to be central to an internationally significant art movement.” It was in New York that Burn began to work with Art & Language, a collaborative artist group whose members included Joseph Kosuth, Mel Ramsden and Roger Cutforth. Prior to leaving Australia, Burn had developed a practice as an Australian landscape painter – an influence that pervaded his later works, albeit tempered by his decade-long experience at the forefront of conceptual art. In 1977, Burn returned to Australia where he became involved in the Art Workers Union, which championed the rights of artists and advocated for the improvement of the conditions and expectations that Australian artists work under. In the late 1980s, he came back to painting and produced a number of iconic series, prior to his untimely death in 1993.

Burn’s work has been exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Key exhibitions include ‘The Field’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 1968; ‘1968’, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 1995; and ‘Artists Think: The Late Works of Ian Burn’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1996. In 2015, Milani Gallery, Brisbane presented an exhibition of his abstract work from his time in London between 1965 to 1967. 

Working collaboratively with Mel Ramsden or as Art & Language, Burn also contributed to exhibitions such as ‘Information’, Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1970; ‘Documenta 5’, Kassel, Germany in 1972; ‘Words: a look at the use of language in art 1967–1977’, Whitney Museum, New York in 1977; amongst many others.

Burn’s work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musee d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne, France; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne.

Ann Stephen, 'Ian Burn', Less is More exhibition catalogue, 2012.

'Ian Burn's Conceptualism', Art in America, Dec 1997.