moniquemeloche is thrilled to present of the land behind them, a solo exhibition of new works by Dan Gunn. This is Gunn’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery.
of the land behind them explores the psychological and mythological implications of regional self-conception. Focusing on the Midwestern pastoral landscape, Gunn considers the urban and rural divides through elaborately carved draperies with inset landscape imagery, paper collage, and ceramic sculpture.
In gallery one, visitors first encounter Gunn’s seminal work Patchwork Plateau, an expansive table-like sculpture that figuratively and visually lays the ground for the exhibition. Mounted for the first time since its Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago exhibition 10 years ago, the work reads as both topographic and domestic, weaving elements of handcraft and painting in an ambitious landscape installation. Flanking the large work are a series of sculptural paintings titled Suitcase Acts. Visually similar to letterpress drawers often used for display in antique shops and evocative of Louise Nevelson’s wall pieces of the 1950s and ’60s, the glazed stoneware works feature nestled objects representing tiny bottles, figurines, tool-shaped items, and other tchotchkesthat speak to a personal landscape and sentimental attachment to American kitsch history.
In gallery two, Gunn presents a new pictorial backdrop using his signature drapery style—paintings created of hand-cut and stained plywood meticulously sewn together to resemble actual hanging fabrics—and introducing low-relief elements. Titled Paradise Scenery, the sprawling tableau depicts an idyllic Ohio River landscape nestled in between two lush trees and cushioned inside a tent-like structure. Deriving from the idealized nomenclature of the American countryside, Gunn reveals the constructed nature of this language in the physical splitting of the landscape, inviting viewers to look beyond the curtain. The large-scale drapery piece combines elements of hand and chip carving, whittled bird sculptures, and salvaged wood from historic sites, a nod to his paternal woodworking connection and commentary on the materials and processes that form strains of masculine subjectivity.
Continuing the trajectory of the collages, Gunn mimics his puzzle pieced paintings in a smaller format through a series of paper works. Mining imagery from National Geographic magazines and the like, these works speak to both the normal and peculiar aspects of the Midwest region and the use and misuse of these images in politics and culture. Magazine clippings of farming, eagles, fishing, quilts, La-Z-Boy sofas, and workwear are an attempt to decentralize associations of rural imagery and far-right ideologies from the wholesome connections related to Gunn’s personal experience growing up in Kansas.
Taken together, the works on view offer an investigation into ideological functions of American Midwestern imagery, both in politics as a “Real America” and as stage settings for the psychological and mythological landscape that underlies the Midwest’s self-conception. Through an exploration of materials and process, the artist generates a scenic landscape ripe with unconscious associations and emotional potential as an attempt to construct a counterfactual folk art, one not riddled with nostalgia but more accurate to the current state of affairs.
Dan’s work is currently included in The Regional—the first major multi-museum survey dedicated to contemporary artists based in the Midwest—on view at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati from December 10, 2021 to March 20, 2022, and traveling to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City from June 2 to September 11, 2022.