It might be winter, but the Woolworth Windows are blooming. The downtown art space has a new exhibit for the new year that brings whimsical, man-made nature into the windows, riffing on imagination, play and re-use of materials, and brightening up the winter gray.
Elizabeth Gahan kicks off in the first window nearest the Pantages Theater with a fascinating toy between abstract and childlike figurative craft. In “Cohesive Fragments” the Seattle artist chops up advertising billboards into isosceles triangles, fitting them into hexagonal pyramids that bloom from the wall like enormous cell structures, alternating with flat hexagons for a background effect. She pairs basic colors — blue and purple, pink and white, yellow and orange — but focuses on graphic textures to not just re-use the vinyl, but repurpose the ads, converting them from ultra-planned, manipulative images into abstract organic forms that reference nature and childhood, and fill the space with color and light.
The next window isn’t quite as successful. “Neon” Deon Thomas, a Tacoma artist, expands on a recent T-shirt design that celebrates and equates the city’s neighborhoods with large cropped photographs of neighborhoods alternating with piles of clothing. It is a rather odd concept: the clothes, arranged as if fitting an absent body, say nothing about the neighborhood, but instead look sad and leftover, like a Goodwill garage sale.
Also not working, disappointingly, is the Tollbooth Gallery, the tiny monument that folks have tried to fit art into for a decade. It is a tough job. Anything pasted to the outside gets vandalized, and anything shown on the screen is impossible to see during the day because of reflections and traffic noise. The dance videos looping for this set of Artscapes are compelling, and the idea of pasting stills inside old-school TV-set frames around the Tollbooth brings the videos to life — but you still walk away unsatisfied.
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In the corner Broadway window, however, Brad Dinsmore brings birds to painterly life with “Doves and Ravens.” Three large paintings of birds morph into a giant mural that sweeps to the ceiling of the windows in a flurry of black and white feathers and gray clouds. Like Gahan’s, it is a good idea for the space. But the light-handed brush strokes are flecky and faded rather than intense, removing the immediate power and reality of the mural.
In the Commerce Street window, Alexander Keyes mixes reality and imagination with endlessly cut-out boxes of pizza and beer. With tiny geometric cardboard shapes, he makes rocket ships, combining them in an installation with a tall retro-TV shelf, a paint-spattered galaxy embroidered with white zig-zag stars and a plywood dollhouse crushing onto its own miniature doorways and walls. The scene plays out like a metaphor for dreams and hopes made of mundane materials, but doesn’t offer any conclusion — just like life itself.
Artscapes in the Woolworth Windows
Who: Elizabeth Gahan, “Neon” Deon Thomas, Brad Dinsmore and Alexander Keyes.
Where: Broadway and Commerce Street at South 11th Street, Tacoma.
When: Through March 17.