Art in Bloom

Jane Fentress

On a small canvas, saplings emerge from the ground and leaves dot the turquoise sky. A red building stands out in the background. The piece resembles a postcard sending a cheerful spring greeting, and is just one piece evoking the season in the “Springen” exhibit at 33 Contemporary in Bridgeport.

“The art is really not stylistically similar, but thematically,” said Sergio Gomez, the gallery’s owner and director. The word springen is German for “jumping into”  or “coming into,” and these past few months, Chicago has been coming into spring. “It is a broad theme, which is the opposite of what I have tried to go for in the past, but a visitor could find all kinds of different pieces,” Gomez said.

The black-and-white pieces stand out from the rest of the exhibit, as they lack the pinks and greens that signify the season. Yet, the simplicity of technique and subject matter invites the reader to take a second look and ponder the type of spring they do contain. For instance, Cesar Conde’s “Early Morning Shanghai” is a simple portrait of an older man gazing out into the distance. The man’s age is evident in the lines and wrinkles on his face; his longing gaze implies he is well past his personal spring, stuck in darker, autumnal times. This tragic and unsettling take on the theme is rather unusual in the context of the rest of the exhibit: moving through the grey concrete space, the pieces grow more colorful and lively, offering a direct portrayal of the season. You’d almost expect something more subtle. However, in spite of the shared colors and vibrancy, the remaining works do focus on different sides of spring.

Jennifer Cronin’s “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” depicts a young woman fighting overflowing soapsuds as she does laundry. The idiom in the title evokes a simpler time in which household chores revolved around the seasons, but without understanding this subtle reference, viewers may be lost as to why an ordinary task of this nature is reflective of spring. Conversely, Eddwin Meyers’s “Big” embodies the traditionally springtime idea of renewal through its contemporary motifs. “Big” depicts a glamorous woman reminiscent of modern pop stars like Lady Gaga, who, exuding confidence, wears oversized sunglasses and is surrounded by dollar signs. The bright lights and the imagery of money imply the woman is in the pursuit of fame and fortune–perhaps the means toward a personal rebirth.

Steve Sherrell’s “Morning at the Skittle Tree” depicts a tree with branches of bright, colorful dots dancing in the wind, swirling toward the sky. Made from mixed media, the piece reflects the recent explosion of Chicago’s flowers and trees. Sherrell’s piece is one of several within the exhibition’s collection of nature pieces on display in the back of the gallery. The nature panel presents a drastic change from the black-and-white panel, and with both black and white and such vivid pieces in the same space, the exhibit exudes chaos and crowdedness–much like city parks on the season’s first day.

Finding the connection between such disparate pieces can be difficult. Though the exhibit operates on the premise that the artists were working with one theme, the interpretations of spring vary significantly, undermining the unity of the exhibit. Gomez, however, offered a defense: “This year’s exhibit is more cohesive… within this exhibit, there is a thread that connects the pieces, even though that thread may be thin.” he said. “This exhibit has one of our broadest themes yet, but it allows the artists to participate in what they’re interested in.”

33 Contemporary Gallery, 1029 W. 35th St. Monday-Thursday, 10am-5pm; Friday, 10am-7pm; also by appointment. Free. (708)837-4534. 33collective.com