Rediscovery – Yun Gee’s Art by Li Lundin

Ten years ago, when American ceramic artist Mrs. Camille Bilops was invited to give lectures on American Drama in Kaohsiung Normal College, she showed several slides of Yun Gee’s paintings during a speech session introducing American Artists in New York City.  That was a special occasion to see a Chinese artist’s name appear on an American lecturer’s artist list.  Yun Gee’s painting The Flute Player has been imprinted in my mind ever since.

In 1987, when I returned to the United States, I met Mrs. Billops again.  I was later introduced to Yun Gee’s daughter, Li-lan, also an artist.  Li-lan gave me some printed materials which I forwarded to Director Kuang-nan Huang of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in the following year while I was visiting Taipei City.  At that time, the museum was hosting a major art exhibition of early Taiwan artists.  One year later, the museum decided to include Yun Gee’s art work in their exhibition program.  In the duration of three years since then, Taipei Fine Arts Museum has overcome numerous obstacles, and maintained contact with the artist’s family for every detail arrangement.  The preparation was then finalized by the museum staff’s this spring.  Their firm determination is the main factor that made this exhibition come to fruition.

Two or three decades before the 20th Century, there were many Chinese artists studying abroad and devoting themselves to the development of western painting  besides Yun Gee, such as Pam Shun-li, Hsu P’ei-hung, Yen Shuei-long, Young Shan-lan, Liu Chi-shang, Lin Feng-mien, etc.  Eventually, they returned to their motherland and contributed to the local art world. But Yun Gee remained in his resided countries and struggled for his own art and development.  This is why his countrymen rarely recognized his life and art career.

Doubtlessly, Taipei Fine Arts Museum is taking the first step to make the historical investigation on those artists who had studied and resided in foreign countries.  At this time, so near the end of the 20th Century, not only does this task have to be completed, but it is the Chinese people’s duty to achieve it.  In the United States, historians have taken this into consideration and started rediscovering artists from the 20s and 30s.  They have re-evaluated artists’ work through careful examination and research.

During this time, it has been a critical stage from the point of view of the history of the American art movement.  Local American art has begun to depart from European influence.  On the way to form a unique style, new artist at this time, such as O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, Max Weber and Yun Gee’s teacher McDonald-Wright, etc. , were the main figures in “American Modernism.”  Their art styles had made “Modernism” become a leading trend and contributed to the prosperous development decades later.

Unlike most Chinese workers, who earned their living in the American lower class, Yun Gee was not moved by the material life.  Yun Gee committed himself to the creation of art.  He abandoned his ink-painting background and started a new exploration on art medium and style.  Influenced by his teacher, Otis Oldfield, and the theory of “Synchromism,” Yun Gee successfully expressed his personal style and gained recognition in the art world.  In the long term struggle for most of the ink painting and oil painting artists in China or abroad, this breaking-through had significant meaning and encouragement for them.

It is  for sure that Yun Gee’s art had received respectable status.  And, in the art history of minorities, Yun Gee was one of the most representative figures.  In the late 20th Century, American art historians have paid deep interest on researching minority artists such as Yun Gee and have brought them wider attention in the art world.

Hosting an exhibition like this is not an easy task, so the visitors should further their interests on the artists, art dealers, collectors and their associations, as well as the artists’ art development, etc.. Above all, trying to generalize all data and establish the knowledge of the actual situation, the visitors can absorb more experience and explore their own inspiration.

There were several research projects on Yun Gee’s life that were accomplished by American academies and galleries.  Yun Gee had talent with languages which made him capable of communicating and delivering his thoughts in Chinese, English or French.  Even so, Wester researchers can only find out Yun Gee’s technical achievement while analyzing his work.  The spiritual aspect of the artist’s work should be left to his countrymen to investigate.  In a way, with this combination of the West and the East, this task can then reach the state of perfection.

Li Lundin