"Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art" at the Phoenix Art Museum: Sometimes, its the fame and hype surrounding a piece of art that excites us more than does the piece itself. So even if youve never been nuts about 17th-century dusky interiors or girl doing meaningless task paintings, seeing a famous Rembrandt like Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661) is a thrill. Bonus: There is much more to this show than mere celebrity status. Take Jan van der Heydens The Nieuwe Zijds Voorburgwal with the Oude Haarlemmsersluis, Amsterdam (circa 1667-72), a beautifully executed painting of an everyday city scene. Heydens meticulous precision rendering architectural elements, rigging of sailboats, and the figures contemporary garb makes the painting enthralling. The exhibition, a result of a five-year negotiation between PAM and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, includes paintings, sculptures, ceramics, glass, and silver showpieces. With so much to look at, not every piece offers a breathtaking experience, but the show is well worth a visit. It is a special treat to see art of such high caliber and you may find yourself a bit starstruck. 1625 N. Central Ave., McDowell Road & Central Avenue. Admission is $18 for adults, $8 for children. Through May 6. Call 602-257-1222 or visit www.phxart.org. L.M.
"Jelly" at Mesa Contemporary Arts: Tucson-based artist Gwyneth Scally reminisces about beachfront life in this installation of large-scale sculptures and acrylic paintings, all focused on the beauty and danger of jellyfish. Its an intelligent, exotic exhibit that examines the relationship between science and spirituality using imagery that viewers, especially coastal transplants, can identify with. Scallys impeccable craftsmanship and realistic painting style combines with witty religious subtext to make a powerful statement. Perhaps, as Darwin theorized, jellyfish are our evolutionary ancestors. Or, they are merely another of Gods creations. The point Scally drives home is that theres no proof of either theory. To her, religion and science are like jellyfish. Lovely to behold; but if you get too close, youre bound to get stung. Admission is $3.50; children 7 and under free. Through April 22 at Mesa Contemporary Arts, 1 E. Main St. in Mesa. Call 480-644-6500 or go to www.mesaarts.com. W.H.
"Reflections From Within: Charlie Emmert" at West Valley Art Museum: If Emmerts oil portraits of 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 mustache 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. W.H.
"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. -- W.H.
"Draw Me a Picture" at the Heard Museum: Steven Yazzie the It Boy of the local art scene has a show at a major museum. Too bad its not a show of the work weve grown accustomed to from him, amazing paintings that showcase his true talent. Yazzie took a risk with Draw Me a Picture, so named because he drew pictures while driving a cart. The result? Um, dont drive and draw. Admission is $10; seniors $9; $5 for students with valid ID; children 6 to 12, $3; under 5 free. Through September 2. 2301 N. Central Ave. Call 602-252-8848 or visit www.heard.org. L.M.
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