‘How do I look, what does my face tell me?’ Day for day we rely on mirrors to inform us about how we look and how we feel. The mirror is a lifelong companion with whom we usually harbour an intimate, although at times self-forgotten and distanced relationship. But what do we actually know about the mirror, its history and usage, and what do mirrors have to say about us?

This is the first time that an exhibition takes a global look at the cultural history of the mirror, stretching back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, among the Maya of Mexico, in Japan, in Venice, as well as in the world of modern art and movies – over the ages civilizations across the globe have produced and relied on mirrors, and ascribed to them varying meanings and powers.

The exhibition also presents works by modern and contemporary artists such as Salvador Dalí, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Sylvie Fleury, Anish Kapoor, William Kentridge, Fernand Léger, Roy Lichtenstein, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gerhard Richter, Yinka Shonibare, Bill Viola, and others; furthermore, the show includes works by twenty women artists and photographers from four continents – from the 1920s to the present – on the theme of ‘self-portrait’, among them Laurie Anderson, Ilse Bing, Marianne Breslauer, Claude Cahun, Nan Goldin, Florence Henri, Vivian Maier, Nadia Mounier, Zanele Muholi, Cindy Sherman, Amalia Ulman, and Francesca Woodman. Apart from paintings and objects, visitors also get to enjoy precious mirrors from antiquity (Egyptian, Etruscan, Roman), along with ancient Mayan pieces and mirrors from China, India, Japan, Persia, as well as Switzerland.

Based on 220 artworks from 95 museums and collections worldwide, we reveal the eventful craft history and technological development of this reflective medium, along with its cultural and social significance across the ages. We look at mirrors in their quality as artefacts but also address themes such as self-awareness, vanity and wisdom, beauty, mysticism and magic, and, last but not least, the latest mirror craze in the form of the selfie.

Supported by: Vontobel-Stiftung, Parrotia-Stiftung, Clariant Foundation, Swiss Re, Max Kohler Stiftung, Eckhart und Marie-Jenny Koch-Burckhardt, Federal Office of Culture