Current Shows, Exhibitions, and Installations

"The Contact Printers Guild" at 422 Gallery: Breaking off a relationship is a pretty rough gig. Some advice: Give it to them straight. Don't muddle intentions with manipulation — only candor will bring clarity. The Contact Printers Guild would likely agree with this philosophy. The group of 17 photographers ditches manipulative tools like enlargers to print their photos directly from the negative. That means that if the photo is 8 by 12 inches, so is the negative that made it. The result is a straight delivery of razor-crisp images. Most on display show natural landscapes, with the famous husband-wife photo team of Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee heading the genre. Some are unexpectedly large, like Chamlee's beautiful black-and-white closeup of a saguaro, about the size of a legal pad. She captures the sexiness of this spiky plant by framing its feminine curves. Guild photographer John Wimberly keeps his negatives relatively small but manages to maintain the drama. One photo shows a Colonial-era church and graveyard in such fine contrast that the overdone subject matter is easily forgiven. Jason Miguel strays from the outdoor shots entirely and shows a number of still-life photographs. With odd combinations such as bricks lined with nails next to twigs sitting in scientific beakers, the dreamy pictures are quietly peculiar. Overall, the works are stunning and the show is straight photography at its finest. Admission is free. Through January 14 at 4115 N. 44th St., Phoenix. Call 602-957-3122 or visit www.422finefurniture.com.

"Speechless" at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art: Maybe it's our monogamous nature, but people love to pair things up. Chips and salsa, peanut butter and chocolate, shoes and socks — these are pairs that make sense. But we may have difficulty understanding the connection of something seemingly random, like horses and flowers. The large-scale photographs by Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg (a.k.a. the Hilton Brothers) put the two together as easily as if they were cookies and milk. The gorgeous prints showcase pristine clarity and crisp color. The divergent subject matter is shown as single pieces, hung side by side, balancing each other well. Makos focuses his lens on the largest of man's domesticated beasts, the horse. In Alpha, he frames the torso of an auburn horse; its fur coat glistens, highlighting the taut muscular structure and the bulging veins. At first glance, this looks like the chest of a buff human bodybuilder — an interesting parallel between man and beast. Solberg shoots similar large-scale photos of delicate flowers against dreamy white or black backgrounds. The two artists take it a step further, however, by splitting some prints in half with a horse on the lower portion and a flower on top. The flowers' delicate arrangement and fragility paired with the brutish bodies is an unexpected duo. As the eye follows the curves of the stems and petals, the horse's intimidating strength seems to soften. Conversely, the bulging muscles of the horse's body lend a sense of durability and strength to the gentle flower. Admission is free. Through January 2. 7160 Main St., Scottsdale. Call 480-429-0711.

"A Century of Retablos" at the Phoenix Art Museum: If you happen to be a man, a little touch of gray may very well get you further in this world than plastic surgery. The physical evidence of age, survival, and experience demands respect from peers. The same rule can easily apply to this collection, with works ranging from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century. These paintings of Christian imagery certainly look their age. The muted colors that were surely bright at one time have aged to a translucent state that reveals the grain of the wood underneath. Some pieces have warped so dramatically that theirs panels have split. But much like a man's salt-and-pepper mustache, the age is what makes them charming and beautiful. This large collection portrays saints, the holy family, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the big cheese Himself in a simplistic, two-dimensional style — much like Byzantine but without the fancy gold leaf. Even if the Christian god isn't your thing, the show is definitely worth a visit because the paintings surely stand alone as surviving historic artworks. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $4 for children, free to all on Tuesday evenings. Through February 3. 1625 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. Call 602-257-1222 or visit www.phxart.org.

Paintings by Scooter LaForge at Antoine Proulx Design Studio: As far as turnoffs go, self-absorbed pretension is right up there with stained teeth and halitosis. And sadly, our art scene is rampant with artists who take themselves too seriously. But Scooter LaForge is the equivalent of tooth bleach and a bottle of mouthwash, as evidenced by his zany and hilarious paintings. His humorously morbid approach to subject matter, from popular Hollywood icons to everyday urban scenes, reflects the ease with which he approaches art. His intentionally immature and splotchy painting style works because the silly visual quality is part of the joke. But this isn't a simple gag; the subject matter — which is often depressing in its own right — is expertly turned into fodder for a hearty, inappropriate laugh. Admission is free and art will be rotated as sold at 3320 N. 44th St. in Phoenix. Call 602-952-1580 or visit www.antoineproulx.com.

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