At the Griffin, two arts for the price of one
WINCHESTER — A verbal pun takes two meanings, or more, and folds them into a single word or phrase. The pictures in “Art·tri·bu·tion” are visual puns. They take two meanings, or media, and fold them into a single image. They’re a version of attribution, hence the show’s title, with the value added of a visual twist. The show runs at the Griffin Museum of Photography through June 9.
Mark Chen, a photographer, collaborates with Shiao-Nan Chen, his mother and a painter of traditional Chinese landscapes in watercolor. The 10 pictures in their series “Renewed” engages in multiple folding together, with striking results. Mark photographs contemporary subjects relating to energy: power plants and high-tension lines. He prints the images on fine paper, and on that paper Shiao-Nan paints over and around what has been photographed.
The results combine separate media, divergent subject matter, and artistic past with industrial present. Titles like “Cloudscape, Migratory Birds and Power Lines” and “Snow Capped Mountain and Wind Farm” are at once blandly self-explanatory and mind-bendingly incongruous. Notably handsome, the pictures are also notably unnerving.
Torrie Groening folds together media in a more attenuated fashion. It’s not paintings that we see in the 13 photographs here, but painters’ studios. Those studios are constructs, arranged and posed as another photographer might arrange and pose fruit for a still life.
Some of the studios are so elaborate as to be versions of installation. It takes no effort to imagine Mark Dion nodding with approval at the sight of “A Sudden Flutter” or “Museum of the Senses for an Artist (Touch).” Both are big — 42 inches by 68 inches and 43 inches by 56 inches, respectively — and packed full with various items. They raise an interesting, if awkward, question: At what point does physical abundance become visual confusion? That question never arises with several smaller, highly lucid photographs, such as “Morning Turquoise Capture (Belize)” — a title as lovely as the image that bears it — and “Green City Glass Blue (Vancouver).” Both are 20 inches by 16 inches, but feel positively intimate compared to their big-shouldered siblings.
The title of Lori Pond’s “Bosch Redux” indicates just what she’s doing in that series. The 19 photographs on display take some fantastical detail from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch — which are to fantastical details as Fort Knox is to gold — and re-creates it in a photograph, using props and models.
Pond’s photographs render large and clear what Bosch painted small and mysterious. Seen this way, the grotesque becomes even more grotesque. This isn’t necessarily an improvement. It also becomes less intriguing, which definitely isn’t an improvement. That said, Pond has her moments. The look on the faces of the old couple in “Bosch Redux 13.0” as they sit on the back of an airborne flying fish are pretty funny. The delicacy of the shades of blue in “Bosch 17.0” are properly painterly and highly appealing.
Tami Bahat’s series “Dramatis Personae” springs from her love of Old Master paintings. The 22 photographs allude to vintage paintings, mainly of the 17th and 18th centuries, without imitating specific canvases. Enhancing the sense of age are elaborate, antique frames. Yet the most arresting photographs strike out in modern directions. “The Dispute,” which shows a woman and baboon seated on chairs facing away from each other, has a happily William Wegman-ish vibe. “The Twins” comes by way of “The Shining” by way of Diane Arbus.
In the eight photographs from their series “Muse,” Niki Grangruth and James Kinser take famous paintings that feature a woman — like Manet’s “Olympia,” “Whistler’s Mother” — and replace the central figure with the bearded, shaven-headed Kinser. It’s Cindy Sherman majoring in art history — except in this case the identity of a painting gets altered, not the sitter’s (and Sherman has done her own forays into art history). The overall effect is a bit campy: Les Trocks within the frame instead of en pointe. Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” is particularly funny. There are eight photographs in all. After three or four, the punchline loses its punch.
The 10 photographs in Calli P. McCaw’s “Imagine That” do something similar, though it’s insertion rather than replacement. A very well-groomed adolescent girl — she could have wandered in from a Tina Barney photo shoot — is plunked front and center in a famous painting: van Eyck’s “Arnolfini” wedding, Seurat’s “Grande Jatte.” The girl literally gets in the way, and the effect is, at best, kitschy. This is one child who should neither be seen nor heard.
At Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road, Winchester, through June 9. 781-729-1158, griffinmuseum.org.