After Meetinghouse’s sunny, near-blinding entryway, the bright blue-and-turquoise main room of the installation serves as a calming, more pensive respite. A hidden door in the wall leads to a cupboard of sorts, empty except for a stack of round boxes. If the first two rooms represent sites for collective gatherings, Cunat tells Artsy that the secret alcove is devoted to the individual.
Cunat often invokes food metaphors when discussing her materials. “I like this kind of marshmallowy, crunchy feel that cardboard leaves once you wrap it in paper and paint it,” she says. Indeed, the walls look lush, smooth, and delectable; her palette evokes Willy Wonka’s candy factory. She describes how she embellished her boxes and “made them into these cute little Jujubes candies.” The broom, the first and last piece of the installation she worked on, “became like an ice cream sandwich.”
Her sensuous descriptions both complement and contradict the ascetic Shaker lifestyle. Speaking of the group’s celibacy, Cunat says, “I think there’s something wonderful about the futility in that act. I like this idea of a community who were so committed to a set of ideals that they basically wiped themselves out.” Yet she also views Shaker construction as their “outlet of intimacy.” Affection, love, and desire for touch got sublimated into furniture making.
Artists before Cunat, certainly, have also gravitated toward the Shaker aesthetic. Mount Lebanon’s Shaker Museum is currently exhibiting
prints alongside the Shaker furniture collection he amassed with his partner, photographer Jack Shear. Shear himself photographed Shakers and their architectural sites in his own work. The first piece of Shaker furniture Kelly bought, around 1970, was a simple wood table purchased at an upstate auction. In a film
produced by the museum, Kelly calls the furniture “simple and well-structured and in the same categories that I like to make paintings.” He even compares the panels in one of his works to the structure of a Shaker bureau.