Raised in Vancouver, the artist Ken Lum was a student of Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace while at Simon Fraser University. Along with Wall and Wallace, Lum has become loosely associated with the so-called “Vancouver School” of the 1980s, a group characterized by its post-conceptual approach to photography. Lum’s work often tests a gray area between “real,” functional objects and sculpture. For instance, an early work of Lum’s (Entertainment for Surrey, 1978) comprised of a four-day performance in Vancouver, in which he stood immobile at the side of the road each day, swapping his own body on the fifth day for a life-size cut-out.
At Artists Space, Lum showed one of his earliest furniture works. The piece consisted of four couches arranged end-to-end in a square formation with an end table and lamp at each of the four corners blocking physical access to the couches. The work’s status as sculpture hinges on the furniture’s loss of function, which occurs through the deceptively simple gesture of pushing couches too close to one another. This was Lum’s first exhibition in New York, and in his view furniture-based sculpture was not yet a mainstream artistic practice; in particular, visitors to this show were frequently skeptical. Years later, Lum would write, “Later, [art audiences] came around and everyone wanted a furniture piece. It sounds paradoxical or contradictory, but once it became accepted and the thing I was invited to do, then somehow, it lost something for me.”
It is worth noting that furniture- or design-based work already occupied a peripheral space within Artists Space’s discourse, and by 1982 it had been explored as well, in various ways, in the work of Scott Burton, Jim Iserman, and Haim Steinbach.