Yun Gee’s Wheels: Industrial New York Appears on the Market for the First Time After 85 Years

Sotheby’s Hong Kong presents Yun Gee (1906-1963)’s Wheels: Industrial New York for Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale. The over-two-metre tall painting is the painter’s largest work and was created for the reopening show of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1932. It is expected to fetch US$10m-15m.

Born in China but raised in California, Yun Gee studied at the California School for Fine Arts, where he met his mentor Otis Oldfield and became heavily influenced by Synchronism. In 1926, at the age of 21, Yun Gee held his first solo exhibition with resounding success, leading to an invitation to France from Prince and Princess Achille Murat. During his time in Paris, he became acquainted with various artists from École de Paris and staged his solo exhibition at the reputable Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.

In 1930, Yun Gee went to New York for a new chapter during the Great Depression. In 1932, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) relocated to its current address on 53rd Avenue and invited 65 artists of American nationality or citizenship to submit works for the inaugural exhibition. Yun Gee was the youngest artist participating in this historic event, as well as the only Asian descent.

The exhibition was themed ‘The Post-war World’, for which each artist had six weeks to deliver a triptych and a work of large dimensions (4 x 7 feet). Yun Gee dedicated himself fully to the task and refused all visitors in that period. Two of the artist’s major works were made in the period, one is a triptych entitled Merry-Go-Round; Sun Bathers; Modern Apartment and Wheels: Industrial New York.

In October 2014, the triptych entitled Merry-Go-Round; Sun Bathers; Modern Apartment, estimated at HK$5m-8m (US$640,000-US$1.02m) sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Evening Sale for HK$10.84m (US$1.39) with buyer’s premium.

New York in 1930s

New York has become the world’s most dazzling metropolis after the Roaring Twenties. Yun Gee saluted the triumph of this capital: the swooping biplane recalling America’s military and scientific prowess, the faint tendrils of smoke rising from the factory chimneys, the exertion Brooklyn Bridge, the countless ships and the towering skyscrapers. They all indicate America’s rapid industrialisation and modernisation since the Great War.

An important element of this immense painting is the circle of polo-playing entrepreneurs. Yun Gee employed perspective and shadow to great effect, creating a ying-yang fish symbol akin to the Chinese taichi emblem. The wheel-like movement of the polo team represents the life and beating heart of America.

Underneath the admiration and awe, the painting also implies Yun Gee’s foreboding signs on America’s deepening socio-economic crisis. The sun is waning towards the West – an indication that the sun may be setting on such unrestrained prosperity; the wheel-shaped polo team dressed in a fashion akin to the Crusaders of the Middle Ages, bringing an implication of the Janus-faced ways in which American entrepreneurs created immense wealth through the exploitation of the working classes.


Yun Gee’s Wheels: Industrial New York

Lot no.: 1017
Size: 214 x 122cm
Created in: 1932
Provenance: The Collection of the Artist’s Family
Estimate: HK$80,000,000 - 120,000,000


Auction details:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Sale no.: HK0736
No. of lots: 73
2017/9/28|10am - 5:30pm
2017/9/29|10am - 8pm
2017/9/30|10am - 4pm                      
Auction: 2017/9/30|5pm