After a baseball game, nothing chases a hot dog and cold beer like edgy, experimental art. That’s the undercurrent in Bridgeport, home to the World Series champion White Sox and a burgeoning offbeat gallery scene. The perfect time to venture beyond the walls of U.S. Cellular Field is in late April, when the fifth annual Version Art Fest (opening April 20th) reveals there is more to this neighborhood than baseball.
1. CHICAGO BLUES MUSEUM
(3636 S. Iron St.; 773-828-8118)
It’s open by appointment only, but that shouldn’t stop visitors from exploring this homage to Chicago blues. This month, “Bright Lights and Big City” celebrates the electric blues; “Harlem of Chicago, History of Bronzeville” documents Bronzeville’s nightlife with artifacts from the original Regal Theater; and “Record Row” commemorates South Michigan Avenue, the birthplace of Chicago soul.
2. OSKAR FRIEDL GALLERY
(Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St.; 312-493-4330)
A guy crashes an Oldsmobile into one of the gallery’s cement columns; you call it a wreck, this gallery calls it art (Paul Sierra’s exhibition, “Mangled,” displayed early this year). The brainchild of the Zhou brothers, this 87,000-square-foot converted warehouse offers roomy exhibition space dotted with eclectic paintings and installations, a café, and dozens of artists’ studios.
3. BRIDGEPORT COFFEEHOUSE
(3101 S. Morgan St.; 773-247-9950)
What’s an art scene without a coffeehouse? Taking advantage of the conspicuous absence of Starbucks, this corner spot delivers neighborhood comfort, occasional live music, and original blends, roasted on site by the owner, Mike Pilkington.
4. BIRDHOUSE MUSEUM
(3143-45 S. Morgan; 312-491-1334)
A local artists’ collective, the Birdhouse evokes the spirit of Ray Johnson, a New York artist who invented “correspondence art” by mailing pop art collages to friends. On April 28th and 29th, the collective, which has a strange affinity for cardboard, fills a storefront space with “April Love,” the paintings, drawings, and collages of 25 artists on more than 300 cardboard post cards.
5. ZHOU BROTHERS ART FOUNDATION
(3302 S. Morgan; 773-523-0200)
The Zhou brothers, a pair of abstract expressionists from China, were among the first artists to settle here permanently, making them the closest thing to pioneers. In the late 1990s, they transformed a dilapidated building and abandoned parking lot into a gallery and sculpture garden and converted a nearby Polish social club into their spacious studio. Still going strong, the brothers this month display colorful woodblock prints, made on Chinese rice paper, alongside an original eight-by-eight foot hand-carved and hand-painted block.
6. POLO CAFÉ AND CATERING
(3322 S. Morgan; 773-927-7656)
In 1990, owner Dave Samber converted this former confectionery into a restaurant that serves a Saturday morning Bloody Mary brunch just one mile west of the ballpark.
7. BRIDGEPORT MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
(Weekends only. 3213 S. Lituanica Ave.; 773-847-3249)
Up-and-coming local artists and recent art school grads flaunt their contemporary art at this residential three-flat, where the second floor is home to a cutting-edge museum run by artist Chris Uphues. This month, three seniors from the School of the Art Institute present “Vegetarian Kazoo,” a collection of psychedelic pop art and papier-mâché sculptures inspired by the surrealist painter Elizabeth Shreve.
8. MN GALLERY + STUDIO
(Weekends during exhibitions only. 3524 S. Halsted St.; 773-847-0573)
This storefront space displays a range of imaginative contemporary art, curated by the husband-and-wife team Jim Molnar and Kuna Na. They draw on local talent, such as Columbia College photography prof Judy Natal, whose “American Alphabet"-a collection of photographs, maps, and writing gathered on a six-month cross-country trek during the 2004 presidential campaigns-opens April 7th.
9. SCHALLER’S PUMP
(3714 S. Halsted; 773-376-6332)
The unpretentious neighborhood joint, owned by Jack Schaller, 82, has been in the namesake family for four generations, making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. Artists and Sox fans alike swear by the prime steak ($9.50) and the heaping portions of hash browns ($1.50).
10. G’s . . . A BOUTIQUE
(610 1/2 W. 31st St.; 312-842-7115)
After her parents closed their jewelry store in the Loop, Mary Ortiz took the concept to Bridgeport, where she opened the neighborhood’s first boutique in late 2005. Named after her mother, Guadalupe, and her daughter, Angela (nicknamed “G-la"), the stylish G’s specializes in unique sterling silver jewelry imported from Mexico.