BY MARY MARCH
When beauty meets duty at Suzette Bross’s photography exhibition presented by Geary at EXPO Chicago at Navy Pier September 28-30, the results are nothing short of stunning.
Known internationally for her creative and inventive vision of contemporary life from landscapes taken from moving automobiles to iPhone photographs of walking feet, Suzette now moves in a more socially conscious direction. She profiles CPS Lives, the organization she founded last year and heads as executive director. She selected eight of her portraits of school principals who are part of the project that brings talented local artists into Chicago Public Schools and celebrates their successes.
“When I asked what does leadership look like in our schools, these principals are among those I interviewed. Each is dynamic and different in personality but totally committed to the kids. By visiting their offices and following them through several school days, I learned a lot about their styles and how they approach the unbelievable challenges of students—some homeless, some hungry, some who are just having bad days. The old concept of ‘being sent to the principal’s office’ was so loaded. These are leaders who care who definitely don’t fit that image.
“EXPO is known as the ‘smart art fair,’ and they clearly reinforce their commitment to the role of non-profits as well as the arts community.”
The first international art fair of the fall season, EXPO gives contemporary and modern artists a vibrant platform to showcase their work. Featuring 135 galleries representing 3,000 contemporary artists from 20 countries, EXPO has also become a celebration for local museums, galleries, collectors, and those curious about the art scene. Multiple shows within the show are offered along with opportunities for visiting dealers to learn what makes our artistic environment work.
Geary, the New York contemporary gallery headed by Dolly Geary, is part of EXPO’s EXPOSURE section which offers galleries eight years or younger the opportunity to showcase one or two artists. Dolly and her husband, Jack, founded Geary six years ago. For their third show at EXPO, they chose to profile the work of Dolly’s sister Suzette. Dolly comments:
“Suzette’s most recent body of work attempts to capture some of the breadth and variety of Chicago’s public schools through the lenses of portraiture. In keeping with her most recent previous projects, Suzette has chosen to photograph principals from a range of schools, in situ as it were, to delve past the institutional surface and give the viewer perspective into the authentic and personal aspects of each.”
With work in the permanent collections of The Art Institute, The National Gallery of Art, the Cleveland Museum, the Block Art Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography and an impressive background in community leadership, Suzette has recruited 25 artists—from painters and photographers to sculptors and woodworkers, and more—to work for a year in schools across the city.
“Our schools are as varied as our artists—neighborhood, magnet, charter, military, even agricultural. CPS Lives pairs Chicago artists, designers, and educators to collaborate on a year’s project to showcase the unique and individual story of a school. Artists are out of the box thinkers and intuitive people. Some of our artists are interacting with the kids one-on-one, others in a more traditional way such as giving programs at the schools. Being intuitive people, they have quickly become embedded in their schools and have gotten a sense of place. They do not serve as an additional teacher but really become an exciting new presence in the school.”
The artists’ work will soon be featured in several sites, not only in the schools but also at Chicago Public Libraries, where the artists will appear in a group show at the main Chicago library. The CPS Lives website will show the skillsets of its artists, including a group of students doing solar sun photos, woodworking, learning about found art, and participating in a girls’ water polo match.
Suzette says, “We want to show what a save haven a school can be. I feel that artists are the best people to change people’s minds.”