Yun Gee, the painter currently constructing a tunnel to the moon starting from the rear garden of his small apartment in Greenwich Village, finds the future in tomorrow, rather than in the past as Roberts does. As an artist Yun Gee has attracted some attention. An impressionist with a fine sense of color and an extravagant imagination, he has been honored with a one-man exhibit in Newark. He also invented a four-handed checker game.
But his tunnel to the moon is his chef d'oeuvre. It was conceived in the spring of 1946, and might now be in the first stages of construction had not some vile thief stolen Yun Gee’s elaborate set of blueprints later that year. That mishap may have delayed the fulfillment of Yun Gee’s dreams, but it has not discouraged him. While less inspired New Yorkers were wasting time trying to cool off at nearby beaches during the drought this summer, Yun Gee was working up a new set of plans and concocting a brochure which he feels sure will result in the initial capital necessary to launch his gigantic project. Nine million dollars will get things underway. That amount is not, of course, a drop in Yun’s total lunar bucket. The tunnel can be built, without extras, estimates Yun, for 150 billion dollars, considerably less than the total cost of World War Two. “And who will say,” says Yun, “that it will not bring more happiness to the world?”
Nothing makes Yun more unhappy than careless reporters who refer to his project as a “bridge” to the moon. “Scientifically,” he has told me repeatedly, “a bridge to the moon is preposterous. You would never get it beyond the atmosphere. It must be a tunnel so that it can be filled with atmosphere.” For the mechanically inclined Yun Gee’s tunnel will be constructed of aluminum tubing, ten blocks in diameter (Yun is a true New Yorker, measuring small distances in blocks rather than miles or fractions thereof) for the first thirty miles. From then on—that is, for the next 221,006 miles, more or less—it will be possible to construct the walls of the tunnel of bamboo and canvas. The project will employ a million men, and Yun Gee sees it as a giant insurance policy against unemployment in event of an extended business recession. Yun Gee is not enthusiastic, however, at the thought of government financing of the tunnel. “A thing of this nature, involving a certain element of risk, should be undertaken by risk capital. It is all very well, on the surface, for the government to step in and provide material and funds; but frankly, that is not how the American West was won. You cannot open up new frontiers by decree. When this thing is done it will be done by men of vision and daring.” Thus far no men of vision and daring have stepped forth with funds. A neighbor of Yun's applied for the soft drink concession for the tunnel; he offered to pay $100000 for the privilege, if and when completed, but as Yun observed, “It is not the kind of money you can use.”
Like Henry C. Roberts the book dealer, Yun Gee, the artist is not discouraged by temporary setbacks. For he has dreams.
The art of a nation must necessarily be based on three principles. First, the creator of that art, the artist, must choose, from tradition, the highest aesthetic standards and must interpret them in the best sense; that is, in the attainment of the highest art. Second, he must examine all sides, races, nations, regions, etc., and draw from them reason, understanding and truth. He must, so to speak, bind them together, remove what is undesirable, and mesh them into a successful whole by means of subconscious or intuitive creative power. Third, he must form his art into an aesthetic, spiritual unity so that nothing interrupts the rhythm and inspiration of that truth. Through scientific improvement he will absorb the Western influence, but racial characteristics will remain forever. In accordance with the above principles, we must introduce the Chinese metaphysical character to the whole universe, so that all will understand the reason and truth our past offers. It is up to the artist either to help interpret this national heritage, or to isolate himself in an ivory tower.
From ancient times until now there have been only two schools in art: One art, for art’s sake; the other, art for the public’s sake. It is up to the artist to choose the one best suited to himself.
Of the first school we find the leading exponents to be Kant, Goethe, Schopenauer and the other philosophers who recognized the absolute spirit and who deemed that art, religion and philosophy are holy. For through human expression, the deep interest, mysterious importance and unlimited truth of art, the artist, like a leader of birds, might lead people to the true universe, past many oceans of suffering.
On the other hand, those who believe in art for the public’s sake, with Tolstoi as a leading exponent, regard it as the artist’s duty to use art as an educational means. The value of art is judged by this school, according to the degree of mass understanding and popular appreciation of art, in the interest of simplicity and publicity.
The first school disregards imitation and is interested in the expression of personality; the latter school looks down on personality and is interested in popularity. The first school regards absolute art as the highest, and its form must express individual truth. This is similar to Lao Tsz’s aesthetic truth, “What everyone knows as beautiful, must be ugly.” (The American version: “Every eye forms its own beauty.”) This school is interested in religion and in conscience, for each advocate is himself a subjective creature. The first school expresses subconscious beauty and the latter displays popular public consciousness. But these two schools are not sufficient for Western society , unless combined with modern science. One school conflicts with the other, and thus shows the attempts at social improvement.
Today we have Scientific Theory, Classicists, Realism, Romanticism, Dadaism, Naturalism, Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Fauvism and Expressionism, in contrast with Idealism. The artist who completely understands all these trends, will surely arrive at the ultimate goal, during this period of resistance and reconstruction.
The school of art for the public’s sake is against personality and tries to create subjective forms and this is not applicable to the art of China. The quality of art in China from the Sung Dynasty up to the present period, has been very poor. A particularly weak period has existed since the Manchu Dynasty, as the interest has been centered in “Ink Amusement.” It denotes a lack of appreciation of aesthetics and encourages the people to be blind and exist only in the material life. That is the difference between the Han and Sung Dynasties, “Spirit of Six techniques,” consciousness and the sincerity of action.
Somehow we can never forget this—the greatest offering of Chinese aesthetics to the universe. After all, China has had the utmost creative success in the principles of both art for art’s sake and art for the public’s sake. The experience of these, principles hangs like ready ripened fruit particularly with our character of the Confucian Middle-ism culture, which is an interest in beauty and goodness resting in one place.
Confucious once went to the Chin Palace and saw the brilliant court with its huge doors and murals painted with portraits of Emperor Yu and Emperor Shu and the Emperors Gan and Kou, which all showed various traits of good or evil, their peacefulness or their aggressiveness. There were also murals on which were painted the Premier Chiu Kan and the Premier of Emperor Shin, holding their official standards and attired in their glorious robes. And Confucius looking at all these, said to his disciples: “Behold, that is why the Chin Dynasty is great and powerful.” The brilliant magnifying crystal makes you analyze the form of things. Showing you the past makes you understand the present.
Besides the aesthetic spirit, what can we do to improve the art with scientific knowledge? The great masters of the Western world. Tiotto in the 13th century and Titian in the 15th century, used tempera in their works, like the great Chinese master Kou K’ai Toh; a technique which still prevails. Chinese landscapes, which were satisfactory in this composition with its sensitivity of depth, would be improved, by the substitution of oil on canvas, as done by the Western artist. This medium, with its everlasting qualities, has the possibilities of giving to a new art a new sap, helping it to retain all its racial character, if not its primitive force. In this medium the Chinese contemporary art, oil paint on prime canvas, would be displayed in the leading art galleries of the world.
We have the examples of Leonardo Da Vinci with his scientific inventions and with the application of certain of their principles to painting. He said, “The whole heart of art makes your heart like a brilliant glass to show every color and every action and yet remain yourself.” We must make art become of real value and be in step with Dr. Sun’s Three Principles. Therefore we need a new aesthetic form to become universal. Is this not what Dr. Sun said. “To save the world with art?”
In conclusion I wish to introduce to my readers my theory of Diamondism, which Pierre Mille claims serves as an “Agent de Liaison” between East and West.
Diamondism in Art
Diamondism fulfills all the requirements of a good picture. Let us examine what may be called the nine imponderables of painting, one by one, classifying them into three groups.
These nine factors inevitably influence the creative process. Some schools have deliberately ignored their presence, but they were there nevertheless. Various schools of painting can be easily classified and explained when identified with any one of these factors:
Painting tries to find an adequate expression of its time. It endeavors to portray what things people look at and how they look at them.
Modern civilization forces people to make the most of everything: love, work, entertainment. We look for the highly concentrated essence. We want everything bottled up, labelled ready for immediate use. That goes for material as well as abstract matters. We want the red-hot inside information, the lowdown on life in the 20th century.
[art] Empress Yang Kwei-fei at Bath. By Yun Gee
Thus Diamondism in painting is the supreme “inside information” about objects reproduced. It is the real spirit of this century.
The diamond acts as a prism, a “one-way” glass. It is nothing but a medium; not a cause or power. It is up to the artist to use it. Up to the spectator as well.
When a picture is being painted, the diamond assures that all nine basic factors are represented. The artist turns the diamond so that all creative forces, which ofter paralyze themselves, are transposed into one wave length: The creative power.
As for the spectator, he does the contrary—turns the diamond backwards to detect all the nine factors separately.
Cubism sought to give inside information, too. Why was it a failure? Because it did not tune in all the factors. It proceeded to slice up the objects. In the end things did not look as they really are. Nobody
We despise those horrible electrics which tried to be like horse carriages. We like a clock of glass that shows the mechanism, but still it must look like a clock and tell time at first glance.
Diamondism, in fact, is comparable in painting to the famous “Man of Glass” at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Everybody recognizes the shape of a human body; still it does not resemble any human you know. It shows the inside of man without being ugly or unrecognizable. That is Diamondism in Painting.
At Temple’s exhibition galleries, 2 E. 34th St., 100 paintings by Yun Gee are cluttered together in the balcony show rooms in chaotic antique shop fashion. The modern European tradition permeates the bulk of Mr. Gee’s works. He takes as a theme the conventional statuesque Confucius and transform it into a lifelike personality, with a technique which is a composite of Derain and Picasso. Very odd and attractive are the portraits of Western World people done upon Chinese scrolls, decorated with Chinese poems in Chinese script. A fantastic portrait of the 600 B.C. philosopher, Lao Tze, holding the pearl of wisdom has the effect of an oriental mystic. It is quite fascinating though it is rendered in a modernistic technique reminiscent of Soutine. A mixture of the esthetic qualities of the Orient and the Occident always breeds a unique art, and young Yun Gee is a good example.
The exotic note of the week was struck by the show of paintings by Yun Gee, at the Temple Gallery, 2 East Thirty-fourth Street. If the artist himself were to come to the gallery unaware of the exhibitor--could such a metaphysical potentiality be arranged—he might well wonder at the variety offered: scroll paintings, Chinese sages, Paris and French village street scenes, figure pieces, and somewhat allegorical or symbolical paintings. A rather florid esthetic chameleonism pervades much of this work, which is, however, not without interest.
A portrait of General Maxine Weygand, painted in Paris by Yun Gee, Chinese artist, in 1938, has been given by the artist to the American-French War Relief, 744 Fifth Avenue, where it is on exhibition and sale. The painting was shown early this month at the Arthur U. Newton Gallery.
Proceeds from the sale of paintings by Yun Gee, Chinese artist, now exhibiting at the Montross Gallery, will be donated to Madame Chiang Kai-shek's war orphans. The artist is donating the proceeds through the Chinese Women's Relief Association, which is sponsoring the exhibition.
At the Montross Gallery, young Mr. Yun Gee’s 26 oils show up ever so much better than his works last year at a 34th St. antique shop. His interests vary from an idealistic portrait of Lao Tze (master of Confucius) to “Lake at Versailles,” “Botanical Gardens in the Bronx” and “Central Park Views.” These, together with other landscapes, street scenes and symbolic canvases, bear the stamp of modernistic European training mixed with enough of Mr. Gee’s natural Chinese design tendencies to make for heterogeneous picturizations.
The New York Times
December 15, 1940
Chinese Art on View
Exhibit Will Be for Benefit of Chinese War Orphans
A special showing of paintings by Yun Gee, modern Chinese artisit, will be opened tomorrow at an exhibit sponsored by the Chinese Women’s Relief Association of New York for the benefit of its fund for Chinese war orphans. Mrs. Lin Yutang, wife of the author and president of the association, heads the list of hostesses for the exhibition, which will be held at the Montross Gallery, 785 Fifth Avenue.
There is not such an amazing variety of styles and subjects in the current exhibition of paintings by Yun Gee at the Montross as was true of his somewhat retrospective exhibition last year. There are, to be sure, portraits of Confucius and Lao Tze and Ambrose Vollard (the late connoisseur circling one eye with his fingers to appraise the better what he is looking at); and there are landscapes that range from Versailles to a lake in Central park. This last presents that touch of fantasy one has learned to expect from this ultra-versatile oriental painter, the touch in this case being an animal (unicorn or donkey) frightening and apparently frightened by birds. There is a painting, too, of llamas whose formal presentation should appeal to our best Picassoids. Flowers, a Madonna and a pigmentarily explosive view of San Francisco’s Chinatown are other themes which have found expression. Till Dec. 21.
San Francisco, April 11—The revolution gripping China has extended to art circles in San Francisco’s Chinatown. “The Modern Revolutionary Chinese Artists’ Club” has been organized and is holding an exhibition at 18 Waverly Place.
Every exhibit is of the impressionistic or futuristic school and all from the brushes of young Chinese students in the quarter. None of the students is more than twenty years of age and one is only fifteen.
The exhibition is conducted by Yun, aged twenty, an Americanized native Chinese who wears a basque cap on his head and fuzz on his chin.
Life October 18, 1954
“Comeback of an Art”
page 90: Juggling Girl by Seong Moy brings a modern, semiabstract style to an ancient art. For this, he carved five blocks, used seven colors. Moy is China-born U.S. citizen who teaches at Smith. (click date to see art)