"Reflections from Within: Charlie Emmert" at West Valley Art Museum: If Emmerts oil portraits of notable historical figures accurately reflect their personalities, then these guys were one miserable lot. In OKeeffe Study, a thin veil of gray watercolor drips like tears over the artists heavily wrinkled and forlorn face. It seems almost tragic considering the colorful femininity of OKeeffes floral studies. Einsteins trademark frizzy white hair and walrus moustache cant counteract the despair of eyes painted to mimic black holes. Though likely a nod to his Theory of Relativity, its disturbing to view. Emmerts shadowy style is most successful in Indian with War Bonnet, an impressionistic view of a proud warrior in side profile. Textured paper and earthy shades of yellow, brown and ochre lend a raw, natural quality that visually describes the bond between Native Americans and their land. Admission is $7 adults; $2 students; children 5 and under free. Through May 6. 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts, Surprise, 623-972-0635, www.wvam.org.
"Synaesthesia" at Chiaroscuro Gallery: When viewed from a distance, New Mexico artist Marcia Myers large-scale frescoes appear to be a blatant rip-off of Rothkos famous color blocks; especially in her Scavi series. Where Myers breaks away from the 60s color field movement is in the texture. By hand-layering linen strips painted with a mixture of plaster, lime, water and traditional pigments, her modern abstractions take on the rustic, weathered quality of an ancient Roman ruin. Check out Color Journey MMVI-III, a framed collage of fresco squares in shades of blue with streaks of rust and orange that add slight tension while remaining harmonious with the color scheme. With that kind of interior design sensibility, its no wonder her work has appeared in Architectural Digest. Admission is free. Through April 9. 7160 E. Main Street, Scottsdale, 480-429-0711, www.chiaroscuroaz.com.
"Tenacious" at Tempe Public Librarys Connections Caf: At first glance, Barbara Burtons quirky monoprints of bunnies and teacups seem well-suited to a coffee shop thats a stones throw from dog-eared copies of Brer Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh. But theres 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. Its not exactly kids play. In contrast, Christy Puetzs 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.
"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 its no shock that charcoal drawings that cast The Big Easy in shades of gray are a disappointment. Birchs 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. Its a stirring reminder of the citys dark past. Admission is $7, $5 for students. Through April 29. 7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 480-994-2787, www.smoca.org.
"After Dark: 100 Years of the Evening Dress" at Phoenix Art Museum: Your old prom dress probably isnt a masterpiece, but formal wear by Oscar de la Renta and Gianni Versace can be as desirable as a Rembrandt. Phoenix Art Museums 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. Halstons 1973 tie-dyed silk gown with iridescent sequin embellishment embodies the free spirit, while a 1985 Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche red tuxedo gown emphasizes the power of the corporate woman. Dont miss Norman Norells late-60s coral jersey dress, a grotesquely tight mock-turtleneck gown crammed with bright pink sequins. Its the collections best example of true couture fashion thats meant to showcase the designers talent, not the wearers 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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