By Sara McCool
The creators of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, an alternative cultural center in Bridgeport, may have been joking when they first described Bridgeport as the “Community of the Future,” but now there’s some truth to that joke. With over a handful of galleries starting up within the last two-to-three years—including Motherland, Second Bedroom, Reuben Kincaid, 32nd&Urban and the Co-Prosperity Sphere—Bridgeport, despite the burden of no easy access to any CTA train line, combined with Chicago winters, is on its way to completely usurping Wicker Park, now “Liquor Park,” as the source for experimental and emerging artist shows.
Rachael Marszewski, one of the organizers of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, admits it was hard to get people in the door at the beginning, but in the last six months their enormous space has been continuously packed. The Bridgeport neighborhood would be an easy prediction for an emerging artists community for one reason: it’s cheap to live there, and wherever there is low rent, there are artists. However, two of the more prominent galleries in Bridgeport, the Co-Prosperity Sphere and 32nd&Urban, have somewhat unique attributes for galleries in Chicago. 32nd&Urban, which has been written up in Newcity previously, hosts packed shows sponsored by Scion, and is run by individuals who grew up in the Bridgeport community, giving them extensive connections in the Chicago art community but specifically in the community where they operate. It’s a self-catering and self-sustaining system. While Pilsen has been attempting to mimic NYC (or something), 32nd&Urban is part of making Bridgeport a stronghold in defining, respecting and promoting a unique Chicago output, much different than the other gallery arenas.
At the same time the organizers of the Co-Prosperity Sphere have a long history of commitment to politically inspired street art and events. As they are committed to being a non-commercial gallery, they specifically define themselves as an “experimental arts space.” The organizers of the Sphere are also involved in producing Lumpen magazine, a prominent Chicago political arts magazine with art criticism and political diatribes, for many years, as well as the newly published Proximity, an art journal with a second issue coming out in September. The radical spirit lives on in their upcoming plans to form B.A.D., Bridgeport Arts District, to start a campaign to host “Last Fridays” in their community.
The curatorial premise behind the Sphere’s current show “Bridgeport Allstars” showcases work by artists living in the Bridgeport community. The exhibition includes impressive work such as “The White House” by John Salhus, a composition in “soap and fragrance.” The fragrance is a delicious watermelon, creating a clean and colorful vision of the president’s home, certainly a place that could use some washing. Another standout piece is Ryan Murray’s “Hidden,” which looks like how it feels to be Rainbow Brite. The bulk of quality work produced solely within the Bridgeport community contained in this show is sincerely impressive.
“Bridgeport Allstars” shows at The Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 South Morgan Street, through September 20.