Reviews of current shows, exhibits and installations

 Dagne Hanson at West Valley Art Museum: It's difficult to reduce an artist's entire life down to a single room of works, but WVAM does an excellent job in illustrating local painter Dagne Hanson's personal and professional growth. Her efforts are traced from early charcoal nudes to more recent, emotionally charged works like her Suzie series, which depicts a wistful young woman with stringy red hair. Hanson's strength lies in her exceptional ability to capture the essence of a subject without depicting full detail. In Miserable Mother Series #2: None of Your Business, rapid brush strokes and opposing hues of crimson and green provide a striking visual representation of a woman's wrath. This is one mama you don't want to trifle with. Admission is $7, $2 for students. Through Feb. 11. 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts, Surprise, 623-972-0635, www.wvam.org.

"Big Works" at Herberger Theater Center: Critics of Chicago's newly installed Agora, a public art sculpture featuring 106 headless bronze figures, can attest to the fact that bigger doesn't necessarily equal better when it comes to art. Thankfully, physical size wasn't the sole requirement for inclusion in this eclectic exhibition. In Rhonda Shakur Carter's The Tree House, a whimsical wooden tree is decorated with animated forest creatures studying a tree house containing kids of various ethnicities. The piece appears fit to be hung in a preschool, but take a closer look at the beautifully detailed children and you'll notice the stereotypical roles they're assigned. Admission is free. Through Jan. 1. 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, 602-254-7399, www.herbergertheater.org.

Ed Mell and Gary Earnest Smith at Overland Gallery: Another Southwest landscape artist (gulp) in a Scottsdale gallery. Yeah, that's innovative. Well, it is when it's Ed Mell. Kudos to this long-established world-class artist for avoiding the kitschy cowboy art I was braced for in favor of modern, cubist-influenced depictions of jagged mountains and hazy purple skies. Gary Earnest Smith emulates Monet's impressionistic style, painting textured Midwestern scenery using a palette knife in lieu of brushes. The technique falls flat in newer works that feature supply depots and other man-made structures, but it's highly successful for illustrating naturalistic subjects. His Autumn Maples, a large-scale portrait of twin trees in golden-orange fall splendor alongside a makeshift country road, will leave you longing for a weekend in the high country. Admission is free. Through Dec. 31. 7155 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-947-1934, www.overlandgallery.com.

Jessica Joslin and Nissa Kubly at Lisa Sette Gallery: The Dadaists may have pioneered found-object assemblage, but artist Jessica Joslin's zoomorphic sculptures constructed from animal bones and metal hardware venture beyond their grasp of the craft. Joslin is particularly adept at capturing the natural kinesthetics of mammals. Though merely a skeletal frame, her Carina, a feline depicted grooming her paw via a leather tongue, begs to be stroked like her flesh-and-blood cousins. The immense planning and patience necessary to complete just one of her creatures is overwhelming; it takes more than 30 metal pipes, screws and joints just to make a single bird claw. Kubly's brass sculptures are equally complex. Her antiqued pinhole cameras possess a weighty, weathered quality reminiscent of early mariners' equipment. The nautical influence is most apparent in View From Amalfi, Italy, an etched spyglass magnifying the reverse negative of a picturesque inlet town. Admission is free. Through Dec. 30. 4142 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480-990-7342, www.lisasettegallery.com.

"Holy Land: Diaspora and the Desert" at the Heard Museum: Something is definitely missing here. Only one Israeli artist is represented, and the closest thing to Jewish art is a photographic series exploring the Dead Sea. Still, this exhibition is worth checking out, even if just to ponder the meaning of Einar and Jamex de la Torre's Maybe, a Mayan head sputtering abstract poetry attached to a weathered camper, which even the museum's docents can't figure out. The most telling piece is the multimedia installation Treehouse Kit, in which artist Guy Ben-Ner is shown deconstructing and reassembling an abstract wooden tree to form basic necessities — a bed, table, chair and umbrella. It proves that even when there's nothing to work with, we'll find a way to connect the dots. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for students. Through Dec. 31. 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-252-8848, www.heard.org.

 
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