After Dark: 100 Years of the Evening Dress at Phoenix Art Museum: Your old prom dress probably isn't a masterpiece, but formal wear by Oscar De La Renta and Gianni Versace can be as desirable as a Rembrandt. Phoenix Art Museum's exhibit of 30 gowns, selected from their cache of over 6,000 dresses, illustrates how evening wear retains a timeless quality while subtly reflecting the social and political climate of an era. Halston's 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. Don't miss Norman Norell's late '60s coral jersey dress, a grotesquely tight mock-turtleneck gown crammed with bright pink sequins. It's the collection's best example of true couture fashion that's meant to showcase the designer's talent, not the wearer's beauty. Admission is $10 for adults; $8 students and seniors; free to all on Tuesday evenings. Through April 1. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222, www.phoenixartmuseum.org.
Kay Tuttle and Kristen Bauer at Modified Arts: Betty Friedan's 1963 bestseller The Feminine Mystique, a study of women's dissatisfaction with traditional roles, paved the way for artists like Kristen Bauer and Kay Tuttle. Bauer's mixed-media paintings depict dwellings that resonate with abandonment and loneliness. In Plan B; the Long Road Home, stick figures of a man, woman and pigtailed little girl (presumably the artist's daughter) are trapped outside an empty home stenciled with feminine patterns reminiscent of antique wallpaper. Tuttle's Grandmother's Purse #2 carries a similar sadness. Unbroken wishbones lie inside the green clutch bag, each one symbolizing a dream that would never come true. Look for Walking Dress, a Victorian illustration of a gentlewoman in a bustle gown whom Tuttle has transformed into a powerful, man-eating spider. Arachnophobes will run for the door, but Friedan would be proud. Admission is free. Through February 11. 407 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-462-5516, www.modified.org.
"LARGE" at Larsen Gallery: Maybe size really does matter, at least where fine art is concerned. Larsen has gathered an eclectic selection of wall-size paintings, many created during well-known artists' earlier years. Check out the late Native American artist Fritz Scholder's Shaman at the Beach, a roughly sketched figure with the same shape and complexity as ancient cave drawings. The thick purple and green layers vibrate against each other on the canvas, a precursor of his later works that use multiple layers of opposing colors. Fans of Ed Mell may be disappointed by his Untitled Pillar, created in 1978. While his cubist influence is evident in the sharp angles of his red rock butte, Mell's earlier skies lacked the vibrant hues and swirling brushstrokes of his more recent landscapes. The impressive size of the piece tall enough to require display under a cathedral ceiling is its biggest selling point. Admission is free. Through Jan. 31. 3705 N. Bishop Lane, Scottsdale, 480-941-0900, www.larsengallery.com.
"Heavy Metal" at Tempe Public Library: Photographer and custom-car builder Johnny Medina captures families that embody the lowrider community, leaving the cars themselves as background. In The Next Step, a teenager in dark shades proudly displays his bicycle, complete with chromed, twisted metal handlebars. It cleverly demonstrates the metal fabrication skills that children of lowrider enthusiasts learn before they reach driving age but, overall, Medina's work reads more like a family photo album than serious art. Joan Waters proves welding metal isn't just a man's game. Her steel sculptures of abstracted landscapes undulate with an organic, earthy feel that's distinctly feminine. Don't miss Hold the Starch, a steel shirt with rusty "buttons" crafted from washers on which Waters used an olive-colored patina to create visible wrinkles. Admission is free. Through Feb. 7. 3500 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, 480-350-5500, www.tempe.gov/library/.
Dagne Hanson at West Valley Art Museum: It's difficult to reduce an artist's entire life down to a single room of works, but WVAM does an excellent job in illustrating local painter Dagne Hanson's personal and professional growth. Her efforts are traced from early charcoal nudes to more recent, emotionally charged works like her Suzie series, which depicts a wistful young woman with stringy red hair. Hanson's strength lies in her exceptional ability to capture the essence of a subject without depicting full detail. In Miserable Mother Series #2: None of Your Business, rapid brushstrokes and opposing hues of crimson and green provide a striking visual representation of a woman's wrath. This is one mama you don't want to trifle with. Admission is $7, $2 for students. Through Feb. 11. 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts, Surprise, 623-972-0635, www.wvam.org.
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