Jennifer Bartlett at Bentley Projects: If you want to see how a painter's brain differs from the gray matter of people who don't know which end of a paintbrush to hold, go see this retrospective of work by the famed California-born artist. In a piece titled Boats, Bartlett places a pair of hull fragments in front of their painted likenesses. The objects are bare as bones, but the painting of the objects is an explosion of lush brush strokes, hyper textures and swirling, breathing colors. You saw lifeless pieces of wood; she saw an impressionistic dream of color, dappled light and swirling wood grain. That's what makes her an artist and you an arts patron. Through Jan. 215 E. Grant St., Phoenix, 602-340-9200, www.bentleyprojects.com.
"Regeneration: Contemporary Chinese Art From China and the U.S." at ASU Art Museum: Most Americans associate China with cheap consumer goods, but this group exhibition shows the nation is also a producer of first-rate contemporary art. Hong Hao's gorgeous, ancient-looking silkscreen prints of world maps show a new worldview, with China at the center of the world, and Zhang Dali's graffiti paintings on traditional Chinese buildings being razed and replaced with high-rises are an elegy for a culture vanishing beneath the forces of Westernization. It's powerful stuff. Through Saturday, Dec. 24. 10th St. and Mill Ave., Tempe, 480-965-2787, http://asuartmuseum.asu.edu.
"Big City" at Phoenix Art Museum: There isn't a single image of the PHX among the cityscapes and urban life scenes drawn from PAM's permanent collection. That's odd, seeing as how we're the nation's fifth or sixth largest metropolis. The omission is partly because of the age of the work, the newest of which was made in the late 1970s when Phoenix was still a cow town on steroids. There are lots of classic Industrial Age images of skyscraper-chocked Eastern cities by masters like John Sloane and Reginald Marsh, but no Information Age images of upstart cities like Houston or Phoenix where all is horizontal. The portrait of the city is incomplete because it omits the last quarter-century, but Big City is still worth checking out. Admission is $9, $7 for students. Through May 7. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222, www.phxart.org.
Ruben Maqueda at Museo Chicano: Ruben Maqueda brings contemporary kick to some of the work in this show of photography and folk art. His glitter-bedecked, candy-colored photos of descansos are digital age-meets-dollar store, a knowing wink at the anti-intellectualism that runs beneath much folk art. And his Day of the Dead altar for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami offers a surprising bit of comfort by depicting the raw, recent tragedies in the old, familiar conventions of Latino folk art. Admission is $2. Through Jan. 6. 147 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-257-5536, www.museochicano.com.
"Private Pictures" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: Some superstars of photography come together in this exhibition of images owned by Arizona collectors. Classic photos by Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Cindy Sherman, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Tina Modotti prove there are people in this state who have a lot of money to spend on art. The show is a sampling of the best work of a lot of photographers, an art world version of one of those Now That's What I Call Music! compilation CDs. Pictures lacks depth, but that's okay, because sometimes you don't want to hear the B-sides by a pop singer or look at the middling work from a photographer's off years. You just want to hear the hit single, or see an artist's masterpiece. Through Jan. 8. 7380 E. 2nd St., Scottsdale, 480-874-4682, www.smoca.org.
Luis Jimenez at Mesa Arts Center: Of course there are sculptures at this career-spanning exhibition of work by the internationally known Chicano pop artist, but it's the watercolors and lithographs that intrigue. Full of raucous vitality and dripping with baroque populism, Luis Jimenez's 2-D works are the love children of Mexican public murals and political cartoons. In the best of them, he rails about social and environmental injustices with romantic, overwrought imagery drawn from traditional Mexican art. It's all death, blood and writhing bodies. The newest work in the show -- like the retablo dedicated to a Mexican-American goat herder killed by U.S. troops who mistook him for a drug smuggler -- is more overtly political than Jimenez's earlier work. You get the feeling the 60-something Jimenez is channeling a lifetime of private rage that had no place in public art. Through Dec. 31. 1 E. Main St., Mesa, 480-644-6500, www.mesaarts.com.
Akio Takamori at ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center: Japanese-born Akio Takamori's envelope vases elevated ceramics from utile craft to expressive art in the early 1980s. The vessels' exteriors were human figures whose thoughts and passions were depicted on the vase's interior. This career retrospective shows 25 years of Takamori's work, from those vases to his recent figurative stoneware sculptures. One piece, Dance, shows a tall, 1950s-era G.I. dancing with a diminutive, kimono-clad Japanese woman. The towering soldier and the wary woman depict the uneasy history of relations between East and West in one brilliant, abbreviated stroke. Through Jan. 16. 10th St. and Mill Ave., Tempe, 480-965-2787, http://asuartmuseum.asu.edu.
"Hector Ruiz: La Realidad (Reality)" at the Heard Museum: Phoenix artist Hector Ruiz fires a shot between the eyes of American values with woodcarvings, block prints, and mixed-media assemblages that address racism, border issues and capitalism. A King Kong-size blonde crushes a hapless businessman in her manicured hands in Westernization, the papier-mâché installation that's the show's centerpiece, and the U.S. suburbs are depicted as a sea of faceless hands reaching for more consumer goods in Escape Diversity. Ruiz's work is as subtle as a baseball bat, but whispered messages go unheard in an age when no one seems to be paying attention. Through March. 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-252-8848, heard.org.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.