The selection of works included in tug, the new Keith Puccinelli and Dane Goodman show at Westmont’s Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, is as delightfully thought provoking as it is wildly unexpected. Even for those familiar with their 2013 collaboration — the series of 110 trace monotypes known as eating fresh peaches and tomatoes talking about death drawing together — it would seem impossible to predict what they’ve gotten up to now.
This year’s show manages to magnify the scale, vary the media and process, and raise the stakes on that brilliant beginning while remaining true to the sour/sweet, happy/sad tone of the original encounter. Their repertoire of curves, sliders, and knuckleballs keeps coming, but with this exhibition, the duo has added a fastball. And like their other pitches, it’s a strike.
The exhibition’s artful staging adds significantly to its impact. One enters through a wide hallway that’s lined with the images from eating fresh peaches. Thanks to museum director Judy Larson’s perspicacity, all of these prints now belong to Westmont, and it was in response to an invitation to show them this fall that Goodman and Puccinelli began work on what lies beyond, behind the blackened doors to the main space.
Honored by the opportunity to present their earlier work once again, and provoked by the dimensions of the big room, the artists conspired to collaborate in a new way. In addition to several large multipanel drawings and a relief sculpture consisting of 33 pairs of very eccentric pajamas, the room is dominated by a single object: “The Boat.” Working together over a period of months in a warehouse space in Carpinteria, Goodman and Puccinelli handcrafted what has to be the most memorable work of sculpture seen in Santa Barbara in recent years. It’s more than 20 feet long and 10 feet high, and it glows in the dark. Constructed on a wood frame that’s been wrapped in sheets of plastic, the boat is lit from within in order to better set off the hundreds of colored cellophane panels the pair has duct-taped to its surface. Apart from the eerily blank white windows that look out from its bridge, the entire structure glows with a rainbow of pseudo-stained glass panels, each precisely hand-cut and bordered with equally carefully wrought strips of black tape.
For once, the tired phrase “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen” seems accurate. There’s never been a boat like this one, and it transforms the space that surrounds it. Echoing the boat’s reference to stained glass, the artists have taped cellophane panels to a large picture window, leaving cutouts that replicate the effect of colored lightbulbs in daylight. Combined with the highly articulated satirical vision expressed by the many cartoons and figures that surround it, “The Boat” signals a transition in mode for Puccinelli and Goodman. While they have not left their considerable gifts as mirrors held up to the perversities of 21st-century nature, they now hold a lamp that serves as both a signal and a beacon, an optimistic gesture of great warmth and humanistic resolve. Get on board before too long — this ship only sails through October 17.