Wry, incisive and insightful, Ken Lum’s photographs, sculptures and installations probe the tensions between identity and representation, and challenge systemic hierarchies of social power differentiated by race, class and gender. A focused, career-spanning survey, Death and Furniture features a small but impactful selection of works from Lum’s internationally celebrated, 40-year practice. Many of these artworks foreground the ways in which the process of subject formation is negotiated individually and collectively.
The exhibition takes its starting point the new body of work, Time. And Again. (2021), in which Lum employs his characteristic image-and-text format to explore issues around our contemporary existence and how that is defined by the anxiety and stress around work and labour. The title of the series evokes the essence of time as non-linear but circular and repetitive. The repetition is also embodied through the short, slogan-like written text placed next to the photographic portraits. However, such cyclical trait is paradoxical with the mortal human condition. Part of the cycle of life, death has formed an important recurrent theme in Lum’s art. In Time. And Again, the repeated phrases become a mantra or a prayer for the individuals to come to terms with their emotional and physical conditions. Death and Furniture also features works from Lum’s Necrology Series (2017 to present), Furniture Sculptures (1978 to present), and Photo-Mirror (1997), among which, his Furniture Sculptures represent some of Lum’s best-known three-dimensional works. Using ready-made, generic-branded sofas, the work transforms everyday objects into art and art experience, a disruption of both aesthetic and utilitarian values.
The title of the exhibition, “Death and Furniture,” references a phrase used in philosophical debate to describe the different nature and bottom line of realities: “Furniture” being the hard reality that cannot be denied, while “Death” can be a cultural and social construct but also should not be denied. Bleak as it may sound, Death and Furniture humorously—like a black comedy— pinpoints the many urgent issues in our share and fragile human psyche against the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic.
Ken Lum is the recipient of the 2019 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO. The prize is awarded each year to recognize an individual’s contribution to Canadian art and to support their future work. Ken Lum: Death and Furniture is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Remai Modern Saskatoon. The AGO’s presentation is curated by Xiaoyu Weng, Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art.
Co-organized by the Remai Modern, Saskatoon and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
About the artist:
Ken Lum is a Canadian artist living in the Philadelphia area where he is the Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design in Philadelphia. Lum has a long and distinguished exhibition record spanning four decades. His work is the subject of numerous solo exhibitions such as Ken Lum.Time. And Again. at Middelheim Museum, Antwerp, Belgium and Sculpture International Rotterdam at Kruisplein, the Netherlands (2021); What’s old is old for a dog. at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2018); and Ken Lum. Coming Soon, Vienna Kunsthalle Karlsplatz Public Space (2015). Lum has also participated in major group exhibitions such as Lost in America, at Der Neue Berliner Kunstverein (2020); Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s at Hirshhorn Museum, Washing DC (2018); and Photography in Canada: 1960-2000, National Gallery of Art, Ottawa (2017). He has participated in international biennales, such as the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paolo Biennale, the Shanghai Biennale, the Carnegie International, the Moscow Biennial, the Istanbul Biennial, the Sydney Biennale, the Busan Biennale, the Liverpool Biennial, the Gwangju Biennale, the Moscow Biennial, and the Whitney Biennial, among others. His work was also part of Documenta 11. Since the mid 1990s, Lum has worked on several permanent public art commissions including for Vienna, the Engadines (Switzerland), Rotterdam, St. Louis, Leiden, Utrecht, Toronto and Vancouver. He has also realized temporary public art commissions in Stockholm, Istanbul, Torun (Poland), Innsbruck and Kansas City. His work can be found in the permanent collection of: Arco Foundation Collection, Madrid, Spain; Jumex Art Collection, Mexico City, Mexico; Musée d;Art Contemporain, Montreal; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Vienna Secession, Vienna, Austria; Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba and Kunstinstituut Melly (formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art).