Reviews of current exhibits, shows and installations

 "Tenacious" at Tempe Public Library's Connections Café: At first glance, artist Barbara Burton's quirky monoprints of bunnies and teacups seem well-suited to a coffee shop that's just a stone's throw from dog-eared copies of Brer Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh. But there's a darker subtext here. Check out Would You Still Love Me If I Had Two Ears, a block print of an anthropomorphic brown bunny with six floppy appendages, drooping eyes, and a bottle in hand. It's not exactly kid's play. In contrast, Christy Puetz's beaded hats and wall hangings depict personal issues with whimsy and humor. Her obsession with meat products is captured in Hot Dog Canoe, a wearable felt cap bearing a beaded dolly of the artist riding in a felt bratwurst, while the round-bellied Whitney doll projects the ideal of woman as both mother and curvaceous goddess. Admission is free. Through April 4. 3500 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, 480-350-5500, www.tempe.gov/library.

"Candice Eisenfeld: Scenes From the Oracle" at Larsen Gallery: The winding paths and mottled skies of Eisenfeld's rich, wooded Victorian landscapes look like illustrations for Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. The downside is that the scenery in each piece is so similar that casual viewers might overlook the interplay of textures and sheen in neighboring panels. For example, in Songs From the Oracle, uneven blocks of glossy red surround a muted ochre forest, lending a vibrant, modern feel to a landscape that might otherwise feel repressed. Don't miss Mount Parnassus, a visual triptych with a pearly-white, textured center panel that mimics the look of encaustic using only acrylic paint and clear varnish. Her ability to manipulate this mundane medium is truly extraordinary. Admission is free. Through March 15. 3705 N. Bishop Lane, Scottsdale, 480-941-0900, www.larsengallery.com.

"Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: New Orleans is colorful and quirky, like that eccentric relative who insists on wearing turquoise hats with leopard-print spandex. So it's no shock that charcoal drawings that cast The Big Easy in shades of gray are a disappointment. Birch's topographical shading technique causes his scenes of funeral parades and Haitian voodoo rituals to appear flat and lifeless. In Free to Be, four drag queens in towels, turbans, and jeweled necklaces share cocktails at the Southern Decadence gay-pride festival. Their presumably ruby-red lips and heavily shadowed eyes beg for color. Despite the aesthetic issues, Birch does have an eye for capturing the unseen realities of pre-Katrina New Orleans. In one poignant drawing, a homeless man sleeps beneath two symbols of slavery: a cannon and a magnolia tree. It's a stirring reminder of the city's dark past. Admission is $7, $5 for students. Through April 29. 7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 480-994-2787, www.smoca.org.

"Armor de Amor: Agave Art for the 21st Century" at five15 Gallery: Artist Carrie May Kreyche pairs natural objects with manmade materials to make humorous, yet profound, observations about the world around us. In her Suckulent series, a baby-bottle nipple is surrounded by rings of dried cactus leaves. They point inward like arrows, forming a visual bull's-eye that takes aim at the "nature versus nurture" debate. Kreyche's grasp of the human psyche is also apparent in the exhibit's title piece, an abstract sculpture resembling an otherworldly ballerina wearing a thorny agave tutu. Her soft, feathered inner core is protected in the same way that we guard our hearts. Check out Hidden Slave Girl, a Japanese-inspired scroll crafted out of used raffle tickets sewn together and decorated with lotus blossoms. Close examination of the newsprint text behind the flowers reveals a disturbing secret world within this traditional society. Admission is free. Through February 24. 515 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-256-0150, www.515arts.com.

"After Dark: 100 Years of the Evening Dress" at Phoenix Art Museum:Your old prom dress probably isn't a masterpiece, but formal wear by Oscar de la Renta and Gianni Versace can be as desirable as a Rembrandt. Phoenix Art Museum's exhibit of 30 gowns, selected from its cache of more than 6,000 dresses, illustrates how evening wear retains a timeless quality while subtly reflecting the social and political climate of an era. Don't miss Norman Norell's late-'60s coral jersey dress, a grotesquely tight mock-turtleneck gown crammed with bright pink sequins. It's the collection's best example of true couture fashion that's meant to showcase the designer's talent, not the wearer's beauty. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, free to all on Tuesday evenings. Through April 1. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222, www.phoenixartmuseum.org.

 
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