Ken Lum is known for his conceptual and representational art in a number of media, including painting, sculpture and photography. A longtime professor, he currently is the Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design in Philadelphia. He was formerly Professor of Art at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver where he was also Head of the Graduate Program in Studio Art; Bard College, Annendale on Hudson, New York, and the l’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. Besides English, Lum speaks French and Cantonese Chinese.
A co-founder and founding editor of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, he is a prolific writer with numerous published articles, catalogue essays and juried papers. In 2000, he worked as co-editor of the Shanghai Biennale catalog. As well, Lum has presented keynote addresses at the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics world conference in 2022 held in Philadelphia, the Becoming Public Art conference held in Markham, Ontario in 2020, the inauguration of the Melly Project Space in 2020 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, the 2010 World Museums Conference held at the Shanghai Museum in Shanghai, the third conference accompanying the 15th Biennale of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in 2006 and the Universities Art Association of Canada conference held in Vancouver in 1997. As an artist, he has a long and active art exhibition record of over 30 years, including major exhibitions such as Documenta 11, the Venice Biennale, Sao Paolo Bienal, Shanghai Biennale, Carnegie Triennial, Sydney Biennale, Busan Biennale, Liverpool Biennial, Gwangju Biennale, Moscow Biennial, Whitney Biennial, among others. In 2019, Lum completed a feature length screenplay dealing with comparative racism in post-civil war America.
Since the mid 1990s, Lum has worked on numerous permanent public art commissions including for the cities of 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. He is currently working on a memorial to the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster for the Government of Cameroon. Related to his public art, he has written several essays on subject formation and public space. Lum’s public art often deals with individual and social identity formation in the context of historical trauma and the complications of official and non-official memory. In 2016, he completed a memorial to the Canadian war effort in Italy during World War 2. The work is sited in Nathan Phillips Square of Toronto City Hall and depicts the town of Ortona, Italy, in the aftermath of war while four soldiers stand sentinel at each corner of the low-perspective work.
Lum has also worked as part of architectural/engineering teams. He was on a team with Dialog Design (Edmonton) in designing a replacement bridge for the Walterdale Bridge across the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. He was also part of team with The Planning Partnership of Toronto designing a public space called Huron Square for Toronto Chinatown. Lum was on a team with Miller Hull Architects of Seattle, in conjunction with Space2Place Landscape Architecture of Vancouver to devise a Master Plan for the Lions Gate Secondary Wastewater Treatment plant for North Vancouver, BC.
Lum has also been involved in co-conceiving and co-curating several large scale exhibitions including Shanghai Modern: 1919 – 1949, an exhibition about the art, culture and politics of Shanghai during the first republican period of China after the demise of the Qing Dynasty, and to which he contributed an essay on the policy of aesthetic education in China’s first modern art school; Sharjah Biennial 2007: Belonging, in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, a groundbreaking exhibition to which he contributed an essay on the subject of identity formation without foundations, and the NorthWest Annual in Seattle. He is co-curator of Monument Lab: A Public Art and History Project, a city wide art public art exhibition in Philadelphia in 2017. The exhibition dealt with the ways in which space is engaged in terms of a city’s monumental landscape. The aim of Monument Lab is to better understand the mechanisms of memorialization by questioning the status of the monument in the context of its canonical disposition. The exhibition was widely reviewed and praised as well as become a referent for other cities in dealing with the problems of controversial monuments and statues.
Lum holds an honorary doctorate from his undergraduate alma mater, Simon Fraser University. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Hnatynshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award and is a Penn Institute of Urban Research Fellow. He was offered a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University in 2011 which was not exercised. In late 2017, Lum was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada. For Monument Lab, he was co-receiver of a Knight Foundation grant along with Paul Farber. In 2018, he was granted a Pew Fellowship from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. He was awarded a Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2019 and a Canada Governor-General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2020.
Excerpt reviews for Everything is Relevant: Writings on Art and Life 1991 – 2018
‘When I put together a show with works of the collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1995, I was fortunate to find there Ken Lum’s “Melly Shum Hates Her Job,” a work he had made for the inauguration of Witte de With, a non-profit art centre in the same city. For me this was the first of many rich encounters with him and his works. Over many decades he has pointedly challenged ruling classes in many regions of the world, religious suppression, racism and other horrors. Driven by a deep sense of humanity, his engagement, backed by a wide knowledge of history and pertinent literature, is reflected in his thoughtful writings on art and life. As he correctly says: Everything is relevant.’
-Hans Haacke, artist
‘Lum’s natural and clear writing is an integral part of his existence. Not just ‘an artist who CAN write,’ he is rare in his seamless narration of idea and experience, his challenge of hierarchical ideas of value, place, and time. Descriptive and disruptive, personal and political, critical and loving, Lum conveys a broad, sophisticated, but level-headed relationship to art seen and made, and life lived at every level.’
-Sacha Craddock, London-based independent art writer, critic, and curator
‘While the writings in this volume obliquely elucidate the thinking process that informs Ken Lum’s artistic production and provide interesting interpretations of the art of the artists they feature, they also represent contemporary art’s gasping for air in the context of the increasing pressure from what in the past thirty or so years has come to be defined as the globalization of the art world. As such, the texts stand as important historical documents of what was at stake in art in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.’
-Alexander Alberro, Barnard College/Columbia University; author of Conceptual Art and the Politics
‘Lum’s writings reflect a fervent devotion to keeping the boundaries between the art and the world porous, with the aim of resisting the congealing of categories, whether they pertain to identities or art tendencies. He finds himself at home in liminal zones of the art system, where it is possible to envision alternative models of art education and historical narratives. Everything is Relevant is an inspiring volume both for studio art students and for those who have been part of the art world for a long time. It exposes the unevenness of the global art system while maintaining a hopeful message about how art can serve as an irritant to the status quo.’ -Cristina Albu, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; author of Mirror Affect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art (Minnesota University Press).
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