Current art shows, exhibitions and installations

"Chado Ralph Rucci" at Phoenix Art Museum's Kelly Ellman Fashion Design Gallery: If you just splurged on a ridiculously expensive piece of clothing — whatever you do — don't wear it when you see this show. Why? By comparison, the garments on display will make you feel like a bum in rags. Philadelphia-born, Fashion Institute of Technology-educated Rucci makes gorgeous one-of-a-kind clothes for a small, international, "ladies who lunch" clientele. He flies under the mainstream radar but is currently the only American designer invited by the exclusive Chambre syndicale de la haute couture to show his collections in Paris — with good reason. His clean, architectural aesthetic made from luxurious fabrics and original textiles is absolutely breathtaking. Rucci loves to dress women of all ages. Gown and Gauntlets is a classy hybrid of dominatrix-meets-sci-fi, made of black jersey that flows to the floor. Adorned by leather panels and rope, this edgy dress begs to move. Top, Skirt and Belt boasts a conservative silk top with a bell skirt that's starched and sculpted to maintain its classic shape. The cream silk is covered with layers of loosely woven, translucent ribbons. They twist, curve, curl, and loop to create energetic texture kept in check by the skirt's immobility. General admission $8 for adults. Free on Tuesdays from 3 to 9 p.m. Runs until August 17 at 1625 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. Call 602-257-1222 or visit www.phxart.org.

"Enrique Montenegro: American Modernist" at Eric Firestone Gallery: This exhibition of work by the late Enrique Montenegro, an accomplished American painter, reveals Montenegro's insatiable interest in people. In these paintings, he studies how we see — or don't see — ourselves by focusing on the human figure. The works depict people involved in the mundane: crossing the street or walking by buildings. Cityscapes, rendered in bold, bright colors and simple geometric shapes, surround the figures and point to how little notice the everyday environment receives. When Montenegro turns his exploration inward with a self-portrait, a poignant display of a man tortured by perceived flaws is revealed — he renders his own face in concrete instead of paint. The rough texture creates an effective, emotional abrasiveness. Overall, the show is a bittersweet study of humanity by an insightful artist. Admission is free. Runs through April 26 at 4124 N. Marshall Way in Scottsdale. Call 480-990-1037 or visit www.ericfirestonegallery.com.

"Cape Dorset Art: Tradition and Innovation" at the Heard North Museum: In this show, the Heard has left the desert behind for the visual traditions of Cape Dorset, an island in northeast Canada. This community has a strong arts scene in which, much like our Southwestern Native American artists, creatives attempt to reconcile tribal tradition with modern urban life. By many standards, the works are childlike and simple, lacking professional artistic training. But it's this very abandon of such concerns that frees the artists to create grounded works that describe their modern culture in charming ways. The concern revolves around the themes explored, rather than the skill employed. From a technical standpoint, a middle-school student could've accomplished an ink and colored-pencil drawing such as the one titled Leaving the Store. The simple line drawing shows a group of people — clad in heavy coats, snow moccasins and fur-lined, hooded coats — carrying plastic sacks. This could be a folk-art piece from long ago, but the clash of the plastic, bright-colored sacks is clearly the result of an urban society. Thoughtful depictions of this tension elevate the works to mature pieces with more conceptual depth than one would expect from the visual skill. Admission is $5 for adults. Runs through August 12 at 32633 N. Scottsdale Rd. in Scottsdale. Call 480-488-9817 or visit www.heard.org.

"Brad Konick: In the Beginning" at Congregation Beth Israel's Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum: Surrounded by the sprawl of Phoenix, the word "space" usually refers to vast stretches of land. But stepping into Brad Konick's exhibition requires a consideration of space on a much smaller scale. Particularly in his sculpture Ego Shelter, a rounded triangle made of corrugated layers of heavy steel, Konick creates a play of tiny spaces. The ridges of the corrugated steel slabs create a pattern of triangular pockets visible from the sides. There's an overwhelming urge to touch, poke, and prod the depth and atmosphere of these tiny gaps. It's not surprising that Konick has a background in architecture. He uses the same sense of design. Admission free, viewing by appointment. Runs through May 16 at 10460 N. 56th St. in Scottsdale. Call 480-951-0323 or visit www.templebethisrael.com.

"Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: Harris, a photojournalist who first achieved acclaim almost 20 years ago, showcases a body of work that spans his career. But this isn't a straightforward photo show with a series of sterile, framed prints. Nor is it a chronological display of an artist's work. The entire exhibition takes over two of SMoCA's galleries and is a mishmash of framed photos, printed images on flowing fabric, large-scale collages, and video installation. The combination may seem inconsistent and disorienting at first, but once it's understood that you've stepped into a collage of this man's career, common threads can be found. Mainly, Harris investigates persona, race, celebrity, sexuality, and gender. In one photo, a black man's face grimaces in anguish as his face glimmers with trickles of blood while his beautiful body is clad in just a jock strap and boxing gloves. The familiar face of Michael Jackson dominates a collage filled with other recognizable, everyday items. And Harris' most recent pieces explore the influence of traditional African art on Western pop culture. The show is a bombardment of frenzied visual over-stimulation, but with a slow, concentrated consideration of each bit, viewers have much to gain from Harris' visual insights. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students, free for children. Through May 27 at 7374 E. Second St. in Scottsdale. Call 480-874-4666 or visit www.smoca.org.

 
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