Eric Finzi at Perihelion Arts: It's a pop culture tenet that Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, was a perv whose fascination with little girls appears, to contemporary eyes, to be very Michael Jackson. Maryland painter Eric Finzi explores Carroll's oddness in a series of epoxy resin paintings based on the author's own photographs of himself and his child-friends. Faces and hands blur, and figures melt into objects around them in Finzi's creepy-dreamy creations. Alice Liddell, the prepubescent girl who is said to have been the Alice of Carroll's Wonderland stories, appears as an ethereal form with a gaping, violent hole where her private parts would be. Finzi apparently doesn't believe Carroll's fascination with the girl was as innocent as many Carroll scholars insist. Admission is free. Through Monday, Jan. 2. 1500 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-462-9120, www.perihelionarts.com.
"Keeping Shadows" at Phoenix Art Museum: This exhibition on the history of photography features more than 100 images ranging from 19th-century daguerreotypes to 21st-century photos from NASA space probes. There's work by big-deal photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Cecil Beaton, and Ansel Adams, but this is more than a greatest-hits compilation. "Shadows" explores our relationship with photography by showing how the medium and our perception of it have evolved during the past century and a half. Are photos infallible depictions of reality, or fabrications that cannot be trusted? Middlebrow hobby for the Kodak point-and-shoot set, or high art? "Shadows" shows photography is, or has been, all of these things. It's a smart show. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors. Through March 12. 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1222, www.phxart.org.
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.
"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 and seniors. 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. 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.
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.