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Death and Furniture

Opening June 25, the AGO is bringing to life an intimate solo exhibition with works by internationally-acclaimed Canadian artist Ken Lum.

A man stands outside a restaurant.  Block of text on the right: What am I going to do with my kids while I work? What am I going to do with my kids while I work?

Ken Lum, What am I going to with my kids while I work, 2021. Digital print on archival paper, 198.12 x 259.08 cm.  Courtesy of Royale Projects and Ken Lum. © Ken Lum Image courtesy of the artist. Block of text on the right: What am I going to do with my kids while I work? What am I going to do with my kids while I work?

The AGO is pleased to present Ken Lum: Death and Furniture, a survey of works from the artist’s 40-year career. The exhibition focuses on five bodies of work, including Necrology (2017), Photo-Mirrors (1997), Four French Deaths in Western Canada (2002) and Furniture Sculptures series (1978 to present). This exhibition also includes Lum’s newest group of work, Time. And Again. (2021), which examines our collective exasperation with labour and harsh economic disparities during the pandemic. Using his characteristic photo-and-text-based format, Lum juxtaposes images and text to tell stories of working-class people, exploring their relationship to work and anxiety. Ken Lum: Death and Furniture opens June 25 on Level 1 in the Philip B. Lind Gallery and is curated by Xiaoyu Weng, Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art, AGO. 

The title of the exhibition, Death and Furniture, references a phrase used in philosophical debate to describe the different nature and bottom line of opposing realities: “Furniture” is an undeniable hard reality, and likewise, despite cultural and social constructs, “Death” is also inevitable. Both of these life certainties are displayed in this exhibition. The concept of death is explored in Lum’s Necrology series, which takes on the form of large-scale posters featuring 19th-century typeface and design. Blurring fact and fiction, each poster describes a possible life lived through text. Visitors will also encounter large sofas transformed into minimalist sculptures in Lum’s Furniture Sculptures series. Its inherent, assumed functional purpose is stripped away as the pieces of furniture become artworks on display. 

Born in Vancouver, B.C., based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lum has long been a distinguished figure in the global art scene. Best known for his conceptual and representational art, his image and text works, sculptures and installations use everyday objects to explore tensions between what is and what can be. Through his art, he exposes and challenges social constructs of race, class and gender. With a sense of humour, his thought-provoking works encourage visitors to reflect on our individual perspectives and assumptions about the world around us. In 2020, Lum was awarded the 2019 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO, a prize presented annually to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to Canadian art. 

This exhibition is co-organized by the Remai Modern, Saskatoon and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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