Michael Cajero has never been an artist of muted views. An expert at making desolate figures out of burnt papier-mâché and twisted wire, Cajero has created a scorched installation summing up his fears about America's new political era. Displayed at Conrad Wilde Gallery in the aptly named show Resist! The Art of Disruption, Cajero's nearly life-sized tableau features a scary brute wielding a club; below him a body lies beaten on the ground. Above, a blackened ladder has been severed in two, a farewell to a world where the 99 percent had some chance of climbing up to a better life.
Invited to submit works pushing back against the "obscenely un-presidential and pathological," 16 artists made "direct, heavy-hitting stuff," says gallery director Miles Conrad, art that challenges the proposed policies of the new president. Crafted in media from video to photography to the scorched paper of Cajero, the pieces rage against economic inequality, racism, environmental destruction and curbs on reproductive freedom. The show continues through Feb. 25; reception is 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4.
Resist is not the only show on the crowded spring arts calendar that touches on politically charged issues. Northern Triangle at the University of Arizona Museum of Art does a deep dive into the tragedy of woman and children fleeing the violence of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and seeking refuge in the United States. The installation, by the Borderland Collective, opens with a reception from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 2. Opening at the same time is a solo exhibition for noted Tucson painter and muralist, David Tineo, whose vivid expressionist works champion Mexican-American culture and heritage. Both shows run through April 2. artmuseum.arizona.edu.
And at the eastside Tucson Desert Art Museum, three exhibitions document the World War II-era internment camps that imprisoned men, women and children of Japanese descent—many of them U.S. citizens. One show zeroes in on the camps in Arizona, including the Prison Camp on Mount Lemmon. At a moment when some Americans have suggested interning Muslims, the shows are a welcome reminder that fear can subvert the Constitution. tucsondart.org.
But art, as always, also offers solace and delight. Many of this season's exhibitions honor beauty; some planned arts events are downright fun. The Center for Creative Photography is staging a birthday party for the late Ansel Adams from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 18 (he would be 115 on Feb. 20 were he still among us). The free festivities include a print viewing of his lovely black-and-white landscape photos (the CCP owns the lauded photographer's archive), a talk by chief curator Becky Senf, and, of course, a birthday cake.
Davis Dominguez Gallery's Play of Light, opening Jan. 27, is all about beauty. Joanne Kerrihard delivers serene, color-filled paintings, Carrie Seid turns up with luminous sculptural boxes rendered in silk, and Andy Polk shows inkjet prints. Through March 11. www.davisdominguez.com.
The Play of Light reception, on Feb. 4, from 6 to 8, is part of Art Safari, an evening of multiple openings staged by members of the Central Tucson Gallery Association. Among the group's other galleries opening that night, Contreras will show Collective Wisdom through Her Eyes Only, an exhibition by eight women artists that includes Jacqueline Chanda's a charming painting of hikers in the Arizona desert. Reception 6 to 9 p.m. Through Feb. 25. contrerashousefineart.com. Philabaum goes south with North Carolina Perspective, an exhibition of shimmering glass art by five of that state's artists. The opening is early the same day, 4 to 6 p.m. philabaumglass.com. And Raices Taller 22's themed group show, Chismes y Verdades, may just may be deliciously naughty: it title means Gossip & Truth. Through Feb. 25. facebook.com/RaicesTaller
Day for Night at Tohono Chul Park is another lovely group exhibition, this one reveling in the light show that glows every evening in the Sonoran Desert, when the sun drops behind the mountains and the moon and stars appear. Opens with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 16, continuing through April 19.
But a show at Etherton Gallery—Terra Mater, or Mother Earth—demonstrates that in this fraught moment, even gorgeous works about the desert have dark overtones. Mayme Kratz has crafted poetic wall works, half painting, half sculpture, in which desert plants are caught—or trapped—inside translucent resin. Christopher Colville's photograms use gunpowder he finds in illegal firing ranges in the desert, raising warnings about environmental degradation. And photographer Michael Lundgren tracks desert decay—both the kind wrought by nature and the kind inflicted by humankind. Through March 6. ethertongallery.com.
And when you think about it, much of the beautiful art on view this season carries an underlying message. Ansel Adams wasn't just making pretty pictures: he was arguing for preservation of wilderness. Chanda's hikers depend on public stewardship of our treasured public lands, and the spectacular evening skyscapes captured in paint at Tohono Chul require clean air—and the EPA.