Downtown Crossing has a number of empty storefronts, which can be an eyesore. Aiming to revitalize the area, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has implemented Boston Art Windows, which places work by local artists in otherwise unfilled windows. It's invigorating to walk along the streets of Downtown Crossing and find clever, eye-catching art being shown off like the latest fall fashions at Macy's.
The current crop of Art Windows, ''$ome ©olor," curated by Samson Projects' Camilo Alvarez, spotlights work by some of the sharpest artists in Boston. Much of it has a social conscience, which is refreshing amid the hard-sells going on in most of the other shopping district windows. The works are smart and provocative but carry such visual verve that they're never ponderous.
Sophia Ainslie presents a frothy mobile in ''Colours and Whites." Set against a dark background and lit brightly from below, the piece comprises several brightly colored, crumpled laundry detergent bottles and charcoal drawings of the same. With the eye-popping colors and the back and forth between three-dimensional and two-dimensional, the work looks almost magical. It's a wonderful vehicle for a complicated message about how the American obsession with cleanliness generates more and more trash.
With dark humor, Magda Fernandez contemplates the colonization of Mars, blending the banal with the unearthly. Her backlit photograph of the planet's barren red landscape is populated with RVs and folks poking meat on the grill. Rachel Perry Welty slyly confronts big-ticket shoppers with ''$torefront," which features a bright and dizzying array of price stickers from the grocery store, enlarged to fill a window.
Across Avery Street from the Ritz, Meg Rotzel and Jae Rhim Lee consider the backbone of luxury: service workers. In two videos, the artists take turns running errands or opening the door for one another; the one who is serving wears an orange uniform. The scenes spotlight class divisions in a funny though unnerving way. Kathleen Bitetti's ''Lullaby" installations reconstruct scenes from fairy tales in pure white; using copies of restraining orders and beds of needles, she reminds us that the lessons taught in such stories can lead to tragedy.
Cristi Rinklin's inkjet print on Mylar, ''Io," and Linda Price-Sneddon's ''Terrarium" installation don't share the social agenda of the others, but they're both vibrant works. ''Io" recalls Greek myth, in which Zeus takes the form of a cloud to seduce the priestess Io. Rinklin's clouds are a river of blue, held together by ribbons of orange; the gesture and muscle of the images have a graphic-novel punch, but there's a lush, misty landscape in the background that grounds this pop work in old-style painterliness.
Price-Sneddon has built a landscape out of pink and blue styrofoam; it includes a waterfall of hot pink twine and a bridge of pipe cleaners and pompoms. Like Ainslie's work, ''Terrarium" is both bright and disposable.
Works of value?
Some of the Boston Art Windows address consumerism with more depth and clarity than most of the works in ''Return on Investment," the show about money curated by Matthew Nash, Matthew Gamber, and Christophe Perez at the New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University. Money might be the most loaded topic an artist can take on, and it's hard to get beyond all the agitation it stirs up in order to make thoughtful work.
There are a couple of successes. Dave Cole has knit skeins of cut currency into small rectangles, robbing it of its usefulness but not its meaning. Obadiah Eelcut's subversive ''Noney" prints are in-your-face worthless and feature regular folk rather than founding fathers. Another Eelcut bill reads, ''the bearer is entitled to receive this note's aesthetic value," cleverly subjectifying worth.
Too many of the works retread old saws and stereotypes. Steve Aishman flips a maxim, printing ''Happiness can't buy money" repeatedly over a photo of a Brooks Brothers shirt display. John Bjerklie's suspended sculpture depicts a briefcase spilling its goods, from stock reports to doughnut wrappers. T-shirts with photos depict Jamie McMurry's performance in which he attempted to scramble up a greased pole to grab a dollar bill. This type of art doesn't shed any light on the deification of money in a capitalist society. Cole and Eelcut neither glorify nor condemn, but raise questions, as do the best artists in these exhibits.
Presented by Boston Art Windows along Avery Street, Washington Street, and Bromfield Street, through Oct. 31. 617-918-4421, www.cityofboston.gov/bra/baw.
Return on Investment
At: New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University, 75 Arlington St., through Sept. 28. 617-573-8785, http://bigredandshiny.com.