Many of the artists we’re sharing with you with AIH Studios’ ongoing Artists You Need To Know are also significant for having challenged the landscape and ‘expectations’ of what the ‘art world’ and wider society considers ‘acceptable. Our latest featured artist has broken ground in terms of censorship and freedom of expression. Mark Prent, a sculptor born in Poland, who lived in Montreal and now in the US, has produced works that are as dazzling in their technical acumen and execution as they are often horrifying and grotesque, with a large dose of black humour. The vagaries and macabre nature of his ‘bodies’, and his evocation of horror cannot leave the visitor to his environments and installations unscathed. Unsurprisingly, in both 1972 and 1974, the gallery that exhibited his work in Toronto – run by Avrom Isaacs – found themselves indicted under an old, and little used, section of the Criminal Code for ‘exhibiting disgusting objects.’
In a manner reminiscent of the NEA ‘controversy’ engineered by the late Jesse Helms in America in the 1990s, “The Edmund Burke Society, a right wing Canadian populist organization similar to The John Birch Society in the United States, instigated these attempts at censorship. The actions generated a great deal of publicity, but ultimately came to naught. Still, they raised significant issues concerning freedom of expression and resulted in much debate about changes to existing law. Prent’s case became a cause célèbre inspiring Joseph Green, the director of York University’s theatre and art program, to restage Prent’s 1974 exhibition at the University’s Fine Arts building which became a backdrop for a conference on censorship in the arts, with Edward Keinholz [whose own work shares an unflinching, uncomfortable aesthetic with Prent] as the keynote speaker. The following year, on Kienholz’s recommendation, Prent received a DAAD grant, and spent the next two years living and working in Berlin.” (from Prent’s site, which has a plethora of fine images and information)
Several films have featured Prent’s work (Prent’s Universe, 1997, and the wonderfully titled If Brains Were Dynamite, You Wouldn’t Have Enough To Blow Your Nose, 1976), and he’s received multiple grants from the Canada Council for the Arts | Conseil des arts du Canada. His work can be found in numerous private collections, and institutions such as National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Hamilton, MAC Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) and the MacKenzie Art Gallery also have his intense aesthetic in their collections.
More recently, he exhibited with H.R.Giger, an icon of both fine art and film, in 2019.
Prent has extensive documentation of older and more works at his site and they are – as you may have surmised – very NSFW, but far more about this groundbreaking artist can be found there. We’ve included the dimensions of his works, to help communicate the scale and power of his practice.
Mark Prent passed in 2020, not long after we shared this post originally on social media, at the age of 72. A thoughtful reminiscence on his life and work, especially as a teacher, can be read here.