The title of Dan Gunn’s current solo show is taken from this despairing passage in John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” a Depression-era novel about the unlucky Joad family. It’s an appropriate reference for this macabre and breathtaking body of work. An extreme exercise in scale, the exhibition features two monumental assemblages (incidentally the oldest and newest works included) as well as several smaller, wildly intricate wall hangings.
In describing his practice, Gunn reveals a complicated relationship with labor and craft discourse. He is hesitant to use terms that fetishize or romanticize labor for labor’s sake; he sees time-consuming processes such as woodworking, chair caning and hand building as a means to an aesthetic end. Gunn is reverential, both toward mythologies of craft tradition in his own family, and the legacy of folk artists, woodworkers and artisans he has learned from. Despite their deadpan humor, there is such sincerity and tenderness to these objects. Says Gunn: “My tongue is a little in my cheek, but I am so in love with what I am doing.”
Welcoming you into the gallery is the first of two grand bricolage sculptures: “Patchwork Plateau” (2011). This kinetic work can function as a screen or table. In this iteration, it is partially accordioned out and each embedded panel acts as a wunderkammer of exotic objects on display. Gunn’s technical virtuosity in a variety of materials is apparent here, in what he considers his first “mature” work. It is one of many in the show that feel elegiac.