Arts & Culture

Review: Woolworth Windows Artscapes go big

A giant mural by Lauren Bollini fills the southernmost Woolworth Window in downtown Tacoma.
A giant mural by Lauren Bollini fills the southernmost Woolworth Window in downtown Tacoma. Staff

When you’re filling a space the size of the Woolworth Windows, you need to go big or go home.

Years of art installations in these former store windows have proved that the combination of depth, height, width, glass reflection and street distraction call for art that’s big in both size and intention. The latest installment — finally — achieves this in all the Broadway windows, though on Commerce Street it’s a different story.

In the first window, Eva Funderburgh articulates a myth. Two deer — parent and child — made larger-than-life from delicately woven twigs and barbed wire, stare at each other across the impassable expanse of the doorway to the building. Within them they carry wire spheres painted turquoise, like strange planets or hearts. The feel of the beasts is liquid yet solid, a metaphysical symbol for a long-ago time in our collective psyche, at once strange and reassuring.

Across the next few window spaces are steamroller prints from this year’s Wayzgoose letterpress festival. Each 4-foot by 4-foot, the prints are big enough to carry their meaning like flags, yet arranged in a five-by-two grid they work in unison, with a black-and-white voice. Styles vary — a busy cartoon homage to Frank Herbert by the C.L.A.W. team, a superbly minimalist “smoking gun” image of the Maltese Falcon by Brian Hutcheson, the hyper-real swirl of a robot Cinderella tumbling downstairs by Carrie Foster — but the impact is uniformly big.

In the 11th Street corner window, Lauren Boilini attacks the walls and floor with a powerful mural. “One Love Stand” drips with blue and red paint flecks like blood, while thick lines smash and bird-cartoons collide with the wall in a blast of oversized feathers and beaks. Boilini doesn’t just cover the wall, she makes brilliant use of scale. At the same time, as you tower over her tiny skyscrapers placed down low on the corners, you’re dwarfed by the frantic excess of collision at eye level. It’s art that’s impossible to ignore.

Down on the Commerce Street corner, the art, though clever, isn’t quite as effective. Nola Avienne creates a volcanic landscape with construction foam clouds, velvet and silk lava, fabric rocks, raw wool smoke and fascinating doughnuts of ash-gray fuzz, rather like magnetized iron shavings. Ringlets of twisted plastic shopping bags descend from the ceiling like ropes of death. It’s compelling in its imagination, yet this window is a big space with plenty of prosaic linoleum tile and wall joins that aren’t used or even covered up with this artscape — and so the imaginative spell is broken. Now, a window absolutely filled with this texture-rich landscape, almost bursting out of the glass — that would be worth seeing. Go big or go home, indeed.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Woolworth Windows art

When: Now through November.

Where: Broadway and Commerce Street at South 11th Street, Tacoma.

Cost: Free.