Chosen by: Ken Lum, Artist
“In 1978, I was spanking new to contemporary art and, except for some vague notion, I did not even know who Pablo Picasso was. At the time I was trying to expand my science-student-self with my first ever visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery, having recently enrolled in my first ever art class at Simon Fraser University. Up until then I had visited only two art museums, the first being the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when I was in my early teens, breezing through all the wings except for the Egyptian rooms which was the point of my visit. The other museum of art I had visited was in Philadelphia. It is almost embarrassing to tell the story of my coming upon the room of Marcel Duchamp’s Etant donnés. I was nineteen years old then and I thought the room was empty but for a crusty-looking old door. Years later, in art class, someone showed a slide that revealed the secret of this door and I was shocked!
Entering the Vancouver Art Gallery’s old and now long-destroyed Georgia Street building, I came upon a collections show. I was really having a hard time trying to make sense of all that I was learning in art class. I tried to be open-minded, but it was a struggle to temper my contempt for what passed for art. I found it difficult reconciling my narrow idea of what art should be with what art was. In that frame of mind, I came across Glenn Toppings and Dallas Selman’s Black Night Rip. I remember trying hard to figure it out. I liked the watery waves reference and that it was placed in a corner. It was not quite as ‘nutty’ as a lot of other works on view and which I just did not get. I also remember deferring to the authority of the Vancouver Art Gallery. I figured if it was good enough to be part of the museum’s collection, it had to be good. The problem was perhaps I just did not know enough about art to appreciate what was good.”