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College Art Association 104th Conference, College Art Association, Washington,

3rd-6th February 2016 

Panel: 'Window, Lens, Mirror: The Materiality of Glass in Modern & Contemporary Art’​

Seductive Reflection: The Mirror-Object of Contemporary Art

Sophie Knezic (University of Melbourne)



The mirror’s fundamental attribute of reflectivity is both amplified and distorted by contemporary artists who can be divided into two strains. Firstly, those who emphasise spectatorial immersiveness, such as Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored Infinity Rooms (1963-2013) whose infinitely receding optical enclosures disorient the spectator’s spatial coordinates; and Mischa Kuball, whose mirror-ball environments such as Speed-Space-Speech (1998) take immersiveness to a turbulent pitch. Secondly, those who focus on the vanitas dimension of self-reflection, such as Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings (1961-2008) whose glass surfaces assimilate the spectator’s own reflection into the depicted scenes; and Elmgreen and Dragset’s mirror installations such as Last Performance (2009) which satirise the conventions of bourgeois domesticity. This paper charts these two lineages as representative of a trajectory from the phenomenological to the narcissistic: from the mirror as the conduit to an expanded sensorium to the mirror as a recalcitrant surface that lampoons the self-preoccupations of contemporary culture.

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