FALL RIVER — In the early 2000s, street photographer Richard Renaldi would stop in Fall River on his way from New York to Provincetown to take portraits. He published a monograph, “Fall River Boys,” in 2009. Those large-format photographs anchor the unruly “Group Exhibition #2” at the Fall River Museum of Contemporary Art — the small institution that opened last year with “Group Exhibition #1” in a mill building, bringing contemporary art to this old factory town.
Renaldi’s black-and-white images, shot with a large-format 8x10 camera, find the youthful overlap between machismo and tenderness. Street portraiture is half artistry, half social skill; Renaldi’s subjects open to him even as they preen and pose.
One of them, Derrick Silva, came to the exhibition’s opening in May. Twenty years ago, Renaldi took Silva’s picture on the steps of St. Anne’s Shrine, hands deep in his pockets, a skateboard under one foot. Renaldi photographed him again at the opening and posted the portrait on Instagram. It’s as if time has blown through the 8x10-inch frame of this photographic universe and enrobed the skateboarding kid with tattoos, muscles, and facial hair. Renaldi still finds candor in Silva’s eyes.
The austere installation of the photographs funnels visitors into more riotous displays. A nightclub once occupied this space, and the museum’s married founders Harry Gould Harvey IV and Brittni Ann Harvey open an old kitchen for one frenetic installation. Michael Pollard’s giant self-portrait spreads out horizontally beneath a vent; an artist who goes by Lub Poeem affixes jigsaw puzzle pieces to a sink, deconstructing it.
This installation pulls off the museum’s anti-hierarchical vision — it’s a field of wildflowers, not a garden plot.
Artists who blend art and fashion take up the theme of social performance in the nightclub space. John Lavoie’s poppy, spray-painted canvases depict blank-faced figures boxing and playing pool. Because they have no features, all we know of them is external. The paintings appear in an installation re-creating the artist’s studio, offering a sense of Lavoie’s rhythms and processes, and a clever internal counterpoint to his faceless subjects.
Without the focus of “Fall River Boys,” “Exhibition #2” would be scrappy but chaotic. The crystalline humanity of Renaldi’s photographs grounds everything that follows in the big aspirations and uncertainties of youth. For such a young museum, that works just fine.
GROUP EXHIBITION #2
At Fall River Museum of Contemporary Art, 502 Bedford St., Fall River, through Sept. 26. www.frmoca.org