Born in Geelong in 1939, Ian Burn spent much of his career working in London, then New York after graduating from the National Gallery of Art School in Melbourne. In London, Burn began collaborating with Art and Language, a collaborative group who produced the publication Art-Language and included artists Roger Cutforth, Joseph Kosuth and Mel Ramsden. Returning to Australia in 1977 Burn became involved in the Art Workers Union (AWU), a political and social platform that championed artists’ rights and helped change the landscape and expectations under which artists work in Australia. From 1980 onward, together with artist and social activist Ian Millis, he worked on a number of initiatives to further the cause of the labor movement, including Union Media Services and the Art and Working Life program. Burn died by accidental drowning in 1993.
Key exhibitions of Burn’s work include The Field, National Gallery of Victoria, 1968; 1968, National Gallery of Australia, 1995; Artists think: the late works of Ian Burn, MCA, 1996. Burn curated the exhibition Working Art at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1985 and Looking at seeing & reading, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, 1993; and wrote Dialogue: Writings in Art History, 1993 and co-authored The Necessity of Australian Art: An essay about interpretation, 1989 with Nigel Lendon, Charles Merewether, and Ann Stephen. Burn’s work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.