Max Dean: A Biography

Multimedia artist and teacher, Max Dean’s performances, installations, videos, and photographs have contributed greatly to contemporary art of the latter half of the 20th century up until today.

Born in Leeds, England, in 1949, Max Dean emigrated to Canada with his parents in 1952. Just prior to graduating with a degree in art history from the University of British Columbia in 1971 Dean began practicing as an artist. The earliest works include Balloon Box, and Boom Boom Box, inspired by a class with art historian Claudia Beck. Immediately after graduation, Dean began working as an art installer and exhibition designer at the Vancouver Art Gallery. This experience inspired him to explore the relationship between the artist, the art work, and the viewer. He also began exhibiting his artwork starting with representation in Pacific Vibrations, 1973 and SCAN (Survey of Canadian Art Now) at the Vancouver Art Gallery (1974) and The Mid-Western, 1976 and Sculpture on the Prairies, 1977 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, among other exhibitions in Calgary and Burnaby.  At the same time he began making the first of his public art interventions, such as Large Yellow Duck, 1973 and Billboard To Be Read As It Is, 1975. This was also the beginning of his presentation of performances across the country. In the late 1970s he was responsible for landmark performance pieces such as _____1978 (1978) and Pass It On (1982) in Montreal. His work has been featured in international exhibitions in England, Germany, and at the Venice Biennale, among other international venues.

A prolific artist who has availed himself of almost every possible medium of communication to make his art, from the pencil and camera to complex technologies, the Robotic Chair conceived of early on in his career but finally realized in 2006, is among his best-known pieces. Speaking about the Robotic Chair in 2020, several years after a prostate cancer diagnosis, Dean described the artwork as symbolizing the human act of falling apart and putting oneself back together again. 

A recipient of the Ontario Arts Council Jean Chalmers National Visual Arts Award (1997), the Gershon Iskowitz Prize (2005) and the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2014), Dean’s work is included in the collections of the Ottawa Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario and also held in several private collections.