"Artists of the Black Community" at West Valley Art Museum: Arizona's African-American community offers a collection of paintings and sculptures as colorful as its members, eschewing muted Southwest pastels in favor of unconventional shades like amethyst and chartreuse. Every piece radiates with uninhibited energy, from Belinda Wilson's stained-glass woman to Bob Martin's glorious Blue Angel, a semi-realistic portrait of a muscled youth bearing white wings that seemingly vibrate against the indigo background. Don't miss Rhonda "Shakur" Carter's She Flutters, a decidedly feminine departure from her monochromatic wood vignettes. A three-dimensional butterfly with beaded red wings hovers near an animated sun rising in a swirling sea of curves and flowers. Admission is $7; $2 students. Through November 26. 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts, Surprise, 623-972-0635, www.wvam.org.
"PIVOT: The Conjunction of Directional Impulses" at Mesa Contemporary Arts: If you have a weak stomach or sensitive ears, steer clear of James A. Cook's cacophonous grouping of sound and video installations. In Ascension/Descension, a pair of cast horse legs sits atop an empty font, the box below playing graphic slaughterhouse video of a horse carcass being flayed. It's downright disturbing. The centerpiece is Tap Dance of Shiva, a trio of video clips which depict dancing feet, people waiting, and a Hindi funeral ritual. Unfortunately, the visual appeal of the piece is shattered by the high-pitched clanking of one of the accompanying sound bites. Taken individually, Cook's works are artfully crafted and thematically relevant. Placed in a single room together, the viewer is forced to either leave or break out the Excedrin. Gallery admission is $3.50; children 7 and under free. Through November 26. 1 East Main St., Mesa, 480-644-6500, www.mesaarts.com.
"Demonic Divine in Himalayan Art" at Phoenix Art Museum: It's not surprising that viewers of this historical exhibition would mistake Buddhist gods for evil monsters, considering the amount of bloodshed going on in these ancient paintings and sculptures. Notice the parallel of Lords of the Charnel Ground to modern Dia de los Muertos art. The 15th-century cloth painting features a skeleton couple dancing beneath a canopy of bones, skulls and draped intestines. But the most telling piece is Horse-Headed One, or Haya Griva, an image of the wrathful Buddha crushing a sinner beneath his many feet. It's a shocking change from the fat, jolly creature seen in curio shops and ethnic restaurants, but it illustrates the Buddhist belief of achieving compassionate ends through fierce means. Admission is $9 for adults; $7 for students and seniors; free to all on Tuesday evenings. Through December 17. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222, www.phoenixartmuseum.org.
Walter Martin and Pamela Muñoz at Bentley Projects: The snow globe is a perfect souvenir: cute, kid-friendly and entrancing. Martin & Muoz's handmade snow globes, and the accompanying photographs on Plexiglas, lull viewers into a sense of security before delivering a sucker punch to the sensibilities. In The Well, two rotund, rosy-cheeked workers in bib overalls play in the snow with a young boy and girl. On closer inspection, the tots are actually struggling against the men's efforts to pitch them into the murky depths of the well. It's difficult to know whether to giggle or be horrified at the sight. A solitary man in a blue engineer's cap leads his horse through the snowy mountain landscape in Traveler 137. It's a recognizable scene that recalls old Currier & Ives prints, until you notice the dead body concealed in the horse's pack. Kudos to the artists for cleverly reminding us how whitewashed childhood memories can conceal a not-so-rosy past. Admission is free. Through November 2. 215 E Grant St., Phoenix, 602-340-9200. http://www.bentleyprojects.com.
"Holy Land: Diaspora and the Desert" at the Heard Museum: Something is definitely missing here. Only one Israeli artist is represented, and the closest thing to Jewish art is a photographic series exploring the Dead Sea. Still, this exhibition is worth checking out, even if just to ponder the meaning of Einar and Jamex de la Torre's Maybe, a Mayan head sputtering abstract poetry attached to a weathered camper, which even the museum's docents can't figure out. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for students. Through Dec. 31. 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-252-8848, www.heard.org.
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