James Jean Exhibition to Open in Shanghai

An exhibition of more than 200 works by James Jean will open on 12th November at Modern Art Museum Shanghai, the first major museum exhibition in China by the acclaimed artist.

Eternal Spiral, curated by Robin Peckham, will run for three months until 12th February 2023 and will feature more than 200 works by James Jean spanning a creative period of more than 20 years, with large scale paintings, sculptures, animations, prints, sketches and colour studies, as well as a number of rare sketchbooks from his early years as an artist.

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The exhibition will cover three floors of the exhibition hall in Modern Art Museum Shanghai. Several of the works, including five paintings created this year, will be revealed for the first time, with many others never having been exhibited in China before now. This all-encompassing look at the artist’s work will give audiences a chance to experience the depths of Jean’s seemingly unlimited imagination.

James Jean is a multi-disciplinary visual artist whose works explore imagination and reality through narrative-driven, layered compositions. The textures, patterns, influences, and symbols he incorporates are indicative of his international worldview, drawing upon European Renaissance paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese silk scroll paintings, anime, and comics. As well as many paintings, sculptures and sketches, Eternal Spiral will feature more than 100 prints, including movie posters of Everything Everywhere All At Once and the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water.

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Ten sketchbooks from the early years of James Jean’s painting career are included in the exhibition, as well as hundreds of sketches and color studies of his creative works, which will allow audiences to delve into the artist’s creative process and witness the steps of each masterpiece’s completion, as well as the art forms to which painting can extend.

Of particular interest will be five large scale animations which will allow viewers to interact with the figures and imagery in the paintings up close, to dive into the artist’s mind and to dissect the dreamlike world as he blends Eastern and Western cultures, mythological and philosophical imagery.

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Shai Baitel, Artistic Director at the Modern Art Museum (MAM) Shanghai adds: “Though his deft command of narrative and a deep interest in human imagination, James Jean has created an inventive visual language that touches on fine art, cinema, and fashion — among many others — while seeking to bridge the realms of dreams and reality. His trans-disciplinary body of work is prolific and boundary blurring, putting historical tradition in conversation with contemporary experience. Resonating with the ethos of MAM Shanghai, Jean’s work is a cultural bridge between various disciplines, mediums, and nationalities.”

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James Jean was born in Taiwan, China in 1979 and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of three. Jean has said himself how, after moving to the US, American culture “colonized” his mind. Jean’s practice enables him to be constantly working with and against these cultural forces at play in his psyche, bringing the unconscious environment into conscious image. He discovered art as a way to achieve a better understanding of the world.

After high school he went to study at the School for Visual Arts in New York, graduating in 2001. In the same year his career took off with a role illustrating covers for both DC and Marvel comics. His multi-award-winning work there brought him to the attention of a much wider audience. Throughout the early to mid-noughties, he was commissioned by advertisers, magazines, record companies, bands, and musicians. Not only was his work award winning, but it also was iconic, such as Jean’s work on My Chemical Romance’s 2006 The Black Parade album. These early experiences, of travel between continents, working for fantasy graphic novels and working across various commercial endeavours, manifest in Jean’s unique artistic creations.

Of great significance in James Jean’s growth as an artist was his discovery of Giuseppe Castiglione, a 19th century Italian Jesuit painter who served as a court painter in China. Castiglione’s work was a groundbreaking fusion of European and Chinese sensibilities, as he introduced western rendering techniques to traditional Chinese silk scroll painting, resulting in unique compositions that transcended the demands of the court. Similarly, Jean mines diverse aspects of popular and esoteric cultures to create hybrid narratives expressed through a mix of traditional and digital techniques.

James retells stories derived from old times in his new mythologies, drawing variously from ancient Greek and Biblical sources, plus a full range of folk stories ranging from the Germanic fairy tales to Japanese, Chinese, and Korean sources.


Working from his home-based studio, James Jean’s shift in focus to fine art painting has been prolific and resulted in exhibitions across the world. Painting primarily with acrylic on canvas, his images are otherworldly dreamscapes populated with anonymous, wistful figures. The textures, patterns, influences, and symbols he incorporates are indicative of his international worldview, drawing upon European Renaissance paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese silk scroll paintings, anime, and comics. His compositions are contained and descriptive yet always surprising, playful, and imaginative.

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Jean’s work has been featured in various solo exhibitions including Jonathan Levine, New York (2009); Martha Otero, Los Angeles (2010); Tilton Gallery, New York (2013), and Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo (2018), among others. In 2016, his work was included in the group exhibition Juxtapoz x Superflat, organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Takashi Murakami and Evan Pricco. Eternal Journey, a major retrospective of his work, was hosted by Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul in 2019. Jean lives and works in Los Angeles.

Eternal Spiral, curated by Robin Peckham, will run from 12 November 2023 until 12 February 2023 at Modern Art Museum Shanghai.


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