DAVID IRELAND, invited to do something artful at the Hirshhorn, chose to turn one of the museum's picture windows into window pictures.

Ireland, 60, of San Francisco, is the latest of a series of artists commissioned to create site-specific works at the Hirshhorn. He has walled off the huge window of the museum's Abram Lerner Room, leaving five picture-framed openings that give mere peeps at once was a vast panorama of the Mall.

The idea was to confine the free space so that the viewer would be able to see only what Ireland chose to show, just as a painter confines us to what he or she has chosen to put on a canvas. By capturing part of the real world and making it his own creation, Ireland seeks to alter our perceptions and invites us to ponder art versus reality, and so forth.

But it's an old idea that others have done better (although the museum staff did a terrific job of making the temporary wall look solid and permanent). However, Ireland's large, funnel-shaped openings give the viewer so much scope that we can compose our own pictures, thus seeing his conceit and raising him one. The project has turned out to be an elaborate and expensive gag.

It's a shame the museum staff poured cold water on one of Ireland's earlier proposals, which was to set the Hirshhorn on fire. Or rather to set fire on the Hirshhorn, by ringing the roof of the circular building with a flaming trough. That would have been a crowd-pleaser.