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Infectious BeautyJes Fan

May 20, 2020

Visit our Awards page for this film’s honors and recognition.

What is beauty in the age of the double tap? In a visual era dominated by the shiny, happy aesthetic of social media, artist Jes Fan walks the fine line between the beautiful and the grotesque, creating sculptures which simultaneously attract and repulse with their glossy finishes, near-erotic shapes, and use of contested biological materials like testosterone and melanin. Fascinated by the mechanisms that construct our cultural conceptions of race and gender, Fan’s work subtly challenges viewers to examine some of their most deeply held assumptions. “When you think of beauty in the past, it’s beauty and the sublime,” says Fan. “It has to come with this suspension, this fear. It also meant, in the past, to describe something that was so beautiful that it almost makes you want to puke.”

Filmed at work in his Smack Mellon studio, Socrates Sculpture Park, and a biology lab, Fan also visits Yale University Medical Library for an arresting look at the work of nineteenth century painter Lam Qua. The painter’s famed portraits of everyday Chinese subjects with medical “deformities” provide crucial inspiration and historical precedent for Fan.

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Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director & Editor: Jia Li. Camera & Sound: Jia Li. Additional Camera: Yiwei Chen. Color Correction: Jerome Thélia. Sound Design & Mix: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Design & Graphics: Chips. Artwork Courtesy: Jes Fan. Music Courtesy: Audio Network & Lee Rosevere. Archival Footage: CBS, CNA, & The Guardian. Thanks: Rollie Abrams; Carver Audain; Brooklyn Bio; Cushing/Whitney Medical Library At Yale University; Cut + Measure; Empty Gallery; Kathleen Gilrain; Melissa Grafe; Nola Hanson; Alex Laviola; Becky Sellinger; Smack Mellon; Socrates Sculpture Park; Top 5 Barbershop; Trans Boxing; & Julie Wolf. © Art21, Inc. 2020. All Rights Reserved.

New York Close Up is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Jes Fan

Jes Fan was born in 1990 in Canada, raised in Hong Kong, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Fan received his BFA in glass from Rhode Island School of Design and works with glass, silicon, and resin to create sculptures that question binary conceptions of race, gender, and identity.

“When you think of beauty in the past, it’s beauty and the sublime. It has to come with this suspension—this fear. It also meant to describe something that was so beautiful that it almost makes you want to puke.”

Jes Fan

On Beauty

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In the Studio

Jes Fan

Through examinations of ceramics and nineteenth-century medical portraiture, Jes Fan considers the symbolism and economics of biological substances.

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