Death and Furniture brings together works by Ken Lum, an acclaimed Canadian artist who was raised in Vancouver’s Chinatown and is now based in the United States. Lum is best known for photo-and-text based works that juxtapose portraiture and language in an examination of contemporary experience. This exhibition includes a new series in this genre entitled Time. And Again., which captures some of the anxieties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as they relate to work. In addition to being displayed at Remai Modern, these works can be seen on billboards in the downtown area of Saskatoon as part of Lum’s public art practice.
Death and Furniture also includes sculpture, installation and printmaking, conveying the diversity of work that Lum has produced over his more than 40-year career. The exhibition title is inspired by two bodies of work: Necrology (2016–17)—a series of monumental, fictional death announcements—and the Furniture Sculptures (1978–ongoing)—living room decor turned into artworks through simple reconfiguration. “Death and furniture” is also a phrase borrowed from philosophy. When realists—philosophers who believe that things exist outside of our perception of them—argue with relativists—philosophers who believe that there is no absolute truth—they point out that “furniture” and “death” are two undeniable certainties. They are used as examples of things that exist whether we are witness to them or not, occupying the space of our shared experience.
Lum’s practice is based in idea-driven, Conceptual Art and the simple, geometric shapes of Minimalism. It is also deeply rooted in socio-political concerns such as class, ethnicity, migration and difference. These issues define Lum’s art and our shared experience in the contemporary moment. To engage with his work is to connect with the artist’s distinctive, humorous and astute view of the world; it is also an opportunity to think through how we each fit into the time we currently occupy together, and a space of undeniable truth.
Death and Furniture is organized by the Remai Modern, Saskatoon and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.