"Big Works" at Herberger Theater Center: Critics of Chicago's newly installed Agora, a public art sculpture featuring 106 headless bronze figures, can attest to the fact that bigger doesn't necessarily equal better when it comes to art. Thankfully, physical size wasn't the sole requirement for inclusion in this eclectic exhibition. Joan Waters' welded steel shields are fluid and graceful, and Tia Tull's Politica III, a photo enlargement of a Hispanic woman draped in an American flag over a gas pump, packs a powerful post-election punch. In Rhonda Shakur Carter's The Tree House, a whimsical wooden tree is decorated with animated forest creatures studying a sturdy tree house containing kids of various ethnicities. The piece appears fit to be hung in a preschool, but take a closer look at the beautifully detailed children and you'll notice the stereotypical roles they're assigned. Admission is free. Through Jan. 1. 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, 602-254-7399, www.herbergertheater.org.
Ed Mell and Gary Earnest Smith at Overland Gallery: Another Southwest landscape artist (gulp) in a Scottsdale gallery. Yeah, that's innovative. Well, it is when it's Ed Mell. Kudos to this long-established world-class artist for avoiding the kitschy cowboy art I was braced for in favor of modern, cubist-influenced depictions of jagged mountains and hazy purple skies. Gary Earnest Smith emulates Monet's impressionistic style, painting textured Midwestern scenery using a palette knife in lieu of brushes. The technique falls flat in newer works that feature supply depots and other man-made structures, but it's highly successful for illustrating naturalistic subjects. His Autumn Maples, a large-scale portrait of twin trees in golden-orange fall splendor alongside a makeshift country road, will leave you longing for a weekend in the high country. Admission is free. Through Dec. 31. 7155 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-947-1934, www.overlandgallery.com.
Jessica Joslin and Nissa Kubly at Lisa Sette Gallery: The Dadaists may have pioneered found-object assemblage, but artist Jessica Joslin's zoomorphic sculptures constructed from animal bones and metal hardware venture beyond their grasp of the craft. Joslin is particularly adept at capturing the natural kinesthetics of mammals. Though merely a skeletal frame, her Carina, a feline depicted grooming her paw via a leather tongue, begs to be stroked like her flesh-and-blood cousins. The immense planning and patience necessary to complete just one of her creatures is overwhelming; it takes more than 30 metal pipes, screws and joints just to make a single bird claw. Kubly's brass sculptures are equally complex. Her antiqued pinhole cameras possess a weighty, weathered quality reminiscent of early mariners' equipment. The nautical influence is most apparent in View From Amalfi, Italy, an etched spyglass magnifying the reverse negative of a picturesque inlet town. Admission is free. Through Dec. 30. 4142 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480-990-7342, www.lisasettegallery.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 Día 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 Dec. 17. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222, www.phoenixartmuseum.org.
"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. The most telling piece is the multimedia installation Treehouse Kit, in which artist Guy Ben-Ner is shown deconstructing and reassembling an abstract wooden tree to form basic necessities a bed, table, chair and umbrella. It proves that even when there's nothing to work with, we'll find a way to connect the dots. 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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