The Woolworth Windows downtown has morphed over the years as an art venue. Once run by the City of Tacoma, then by Tacoma Contemporary, and now by the City again as part of the Spaceworks temporary-art-in-empty-spaces program, the space has also been on-again-off-again in terms of the art quality. I’ve seen brilliant installations by renowned artists, but I’ve also seen completely lame student exhibits that make no use of the big, shallow space whatsoever.
But the big bonus of the Windows is that it’s always free, 24/7. Occupying the street frontage of this former department store, the art space extends along Broadway, down South 11th Street and into one more window on Commerce St, giving plenty of scope for big installations, which tend to change every three months.
Up right now is the usual mix of good, excellent and boring. Down on Commerce Street,
Alexandra Opie’s off-beat still life is constructed with clear glass vases, skulls and manikin heads, next to which is a monitor which shows the closed-circuit view from behind. If you stand just to the left of the monitor your face hovers behind the vases: distorted, blurred and ghostlike through the window. It’s a clever mix of 17th-century still-life and 21st-century self-obsession, but it doesn’t fit the space too well.
In the Broadway windows near South 11th Street is a mega-installation by Craig Snyder, Ruth Tomlinson, Tania Kupczak and Jessica Bender that delves into the obsession of collecting. It’s a good idea but a bit disappointing: The floor grid of white light blocks is dwarfed by the ceiling height, while a pin-up grid of ‘80s sci-fi book covers behind doesn’t really say much.
Alice di Certo’s “My America” photographs, however, thoroughly fit this space. The Italian-born Tacoma photographer captures ordinary Americans out in the boondocks with an honest, sympathetic eye, like the matching father-son pair squatting on pretzel-crossed legs or the teenagers joking behind a car rally. Di Certo’s husband Kyle Dillehay fills the next window with his “Lines of the Earth”: plant roots jutting out from the white wall in a surreal commentary on the loss of life and home. His other window has sculptures of preserved plant parts, wire and plaster poking out of horizontal metal rods, pinned specimens of human debris. It’s a 3D grid with stark beauty and fascinating detail.
The Woolworth Windows are on view 24/7 at Broadway and South 11th Street, Tacoma. The current exhibition will change this spring. 253-591-5191, www.spaceworkstacoma.org