David Hilliard’s photography exhibition “The Tale Is True,” now up at Carroll and Sons gallery, reads like a novel. It tells the story of a father and son living in a dilapidated house along the water in Provincetown. The pair let Hilliard in to document their lives. The artist has done this before; a previous body of work, fraught and tender, depicted his relationship with his own father.
With this pair, he is spare and eloquent in his rendering. The father and son, with their view out to the sea, seem trapped and forlorn. Hilliard’s multi-panel color photos utilize slight changes in perspective and a shallow, shifting focus to suggest a contemplative, sometimes stuttering gaze that leads deep into his narrative.
“Send to George D. Bryant,” a four-panel piece, sweeps intimately through a jam-packed space. A trunk sits askew amid toppling piles of books and papers, a moldy flag, and more. The work shows only a small area, but Hilliard’s approach makes it engulfing. The focus on the trunk, then the flag, then an old book about the breeding habits of chimney swans mimics the way a visitor’s eye would flit from here to there.
The stamp of the house’s residents is unmistakable, but there’s a searing sense of emptiness, even amid occasional indications of hoarding. “Transgressors” depicts shelves with figurines of seafarers, a window, and a painting of a ship. The unwashed window, off-center, acts as a scrim between us and the sun and ocean beyond.
“Ebb” poignantly depicts the son chest-deep in water with his back to us. The tattoos of fish swimming over his back imply that he’s making a sad escape, returning, somehow, to the sea. Hilliard conveys these men as confined, surrounded by figments of the water, drowning on dry land. “Ebb” reads less like a threat of real drowning than a metaphor for a swamped life.
Damien Hoar de Galvan, who has a small, bustling show in Carroll and Sons’ project room, plays along the painting-sculpture continuum. For a smart untitled wall piece, he cut a hole out of wood panel and filled it with little wedges of wood and cardboard, some painted, to make a bright and fractured globe.
“Something Could Happen at Any Moment,” features more than 50 oddball objects on scrappy shelving: a coffee can filled with painted green sticks, a mass of beer bottle tops glued together atop a gray block, and more. They’re sometimes charming and occasionally annoying. The defiantly humble aesthetic ultimately overwhelms the objects themselves.
If the Guerrilla Girls and Andy Warhol had a love child, it would be Bruce High Quality Foundation, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artists collective known for skewering art world ideals. They have a laugh-out-loud show up at the Cohen Gallery in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University.
The work makes a nuanced critique of American individualism. These artists often blot out faces with white, blue, and red paint. “Once a face, now a mask. Soon, a colorless dot,” reads their catalog description of deceased fictional artist Bruce High Quality’s self-portraits. For “Self Portrait (Bruno),” two silkscreens with paint, they smeared those masks over an image of high-flying Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger.
“Freedom (Bogart),” a statue of that icon of swagger Humphrey Bogart, has a face dripping with paint. He listens through earphones to celebrated author Jonathan Franzen’s novel “Freedom,” a book about the weight of liberty.
The group takes its own liberties, mashing up Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp in “The Bachelors of Avignon,” a lurid red print-and-paint version of Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” with the titular callout to Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.” The erotically posed figures are made clownish by cartoony painted masks.
Keeping their own identities generally under wraps, the members of Bruce High Quality Foundation get to have it both ways. They can make fun of celebrity, but as a group they are quickly gaining it themselves.
Apps and projections
“Poetic Codings,” organized by Los Angeles curator Jody Zellen at Boston Cyberarts Gallery, is a small but often enchanting show of projections and apps for smartphones.
The apps, designed by the likes of interactive art guru Scott Snibbe and conceptual artist John Baldessari, are mostly simple and sweet. Baldessari’s “In Still Life” empowers the user to rearrange elements of a 17th-century Dutch still life. Snibbe’s “Gravilux,” encourages the user to scatter stars with your fingertips. These won’t provide hours of fun, but they might engage your time waiting for the T.
Of the projections, John Carpenter’s delightful “Dandelion Clock” brings out the 2-year-old in a viewer. The gauzy dandelion swirls and explodes in response to your movement in front of it. Jeremy Rotsztain’s whizz-bang “Action Painting” splashes painterly splatters in concert with a soundtrack of crashes, grunts, and hails of bullets borrowed from action movies. That’s more for your inner 13-year-old boy.
Bruce High Quality Foundation: Freedom
At: Cohen Gallery, Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Brown University, 154 Angell St., Providence, through June 3.
At: Boston Cyberarts Gallery,
141 Green St., Jamaica Plain, through June 2. 617-522-6710, www.bostoncyberarts.org