A new immersive exhibition featuring photographic prints by Jan Serr opened on October 15 at The Warehouse, bringing Milwaukee an astonishing collection of images that documented China during its modernization era.
The sixty-four photographic works of “CHINA: Then & Now – Jan Serr” focus on the former Middle Kingdom of Asia. They represent the streets of the “Old Town” Hutong Quarter, the peaceful Scholar Garden and the ultra-contemporary world of high-speed Maglev trains traveling at 375 miles per hour. The exhibition is a visual presentation of the passage of time in China.
Reflecting these efforts represented in Serr’s subject, the collection uses large-scale facilities to transport visitors from China’s modern streets to its quaint historic neighborhoods.
By arranging prints of his meticulously curated compositions as part of the immersive exhibition, Serr’s work asks what is remembered and what is forgotten. Co-organized by Kate Hawley and Jan Serr, the time travel invites visitors to experience China through her eyes.
“What I saw in China, and how I saw it, is what you see here now. You are standing with me, looking through my camera, looking through my eyes, ”Serr said.
As visitors pass through a full-sized moon gate, they enter a “Humble Administrator’s Garden” adorned with meditative scholar’s stones and an ever-calming water feature, designating a space for personal contemplation.
Other works include two large figurative ceramics by Pamela Leung never before exhibited in the United States, hand-colored brass rubs and other Chinese artifacts. All exhibitions at The Warehouse and their associated programming are free and open to the public.
While Serr has worked with many types of image capture systems, in China she chose to be a street photographer. Its tool was a Nikon digital camera, and its working principle was “See it, shoot it, be careful, go”.
“I compose by looking through the camera’s viewfinder,” Serr added. “I don’t crop the images. Sometimes I wait a long time for a composition to develop, for traffic to move in a certain way, or for someone to look in or away from the camera. I take thousands of images, I only select a few.
In addition to Serr’s photographs, the exhibition includes a previously unseen painting of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, created in 1989. Events in the Chinese capital also coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany.
“Seeing these images, seeing these events happening, Jan did what she does as a visual artist. She stretched out canvases and began to paint pictures of the Berlin Wall and Chinese students. They were just his private visual diary of events, ”said John Shannon, Managing Director of The Warehouse. “They were knocking down the wall and celebrating, and in Tiananmen Square there were demonstrators. Jan was not there, she saw the pictures on TV, but she was very moved.
Shannon said it was important to show the painting because he didn’t want the public to think the collection was celebrating an “autocratic, corrupt and ruthless political system.” It served as a touchstone of civility and protest.
“Right now, China in Hong Kong is jailing artists and journalists. At the moment, Chinese fighter jets are flying very close to Taiwan. It’s Chinese expansionism, ”Shannon added. “And that’s why the painting is here at the start of the exhibition. We’ve taken note of why it’s here and what it means to us. It really turns everything we do.
The Warehouse is an art museum and research facility located in the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee
district. The exhibitions, performances and lectures are based on The Warehouse’s permanent collection of over 3,600 modern and contemporary works on paper, paintings, photographs and sculptures. “China: Then and Now” runs until December 30.