Jan Serr’s “About Face” at UWM
In preparing to review Jan Serr’s exhibition (through Oct. 1 at UW-Milwaukee’s Inova/Arts Center gallery), I recalled her large, expertly crafted landscapes. I have a problem reviewing images that lack narrative content, and in Serr’s dense world, devoid of figures, I found myself wondering if the artist was hiding in the slick and perfectly formed foliage.
I changed course when I saw, at the Tory Folliard Gallery, her recent sunny monotypes, in which people populate beaches and women bask in flowery fields. Did they signal a major change? I headed to the Inova Gallery on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to see Serr’s Continuum 10 offering, aptly titled About Face. It’s about faces, and perhaps about changing direction.
It turns out that Serr’s enormous output includes a good deal of figurative work, much of it self-portraiture and dating back decades. She just hadn’t shown it until now.
In the gallery, neatly divided into four spaces (each with a story to tell), I instantly recognized a smiling image of Nicole Hauser-Reid, a former employee of Folliard gallery. That’s her (Nicole Hauser in Red) in the upper right hand corner of the image I’ve included. The grouping includes smiling folks and a lone dog. My initial response: Wow, these are straight out of the 70s. Serr seems to be channeling Warhol.
On the other hand, her monotypes of sunbathers have a touch of Alex Katz with a smoosh of Andrew Wyeth, and in Two Bathers, a hint of Eric Fischl. Prior to visiting the exhibition, I located some of her automatic drawing monotypes online. Lyrical images of dancers, loose and unfettered, confirmed that this 1968 UW-Milwaukee MFA graduate, is creative, versatile, and infinitely curious about the world. An entire wall devoted to these beauties was a relief from the tsunami of self-portraits.
And then I found the perfect piece, Intimate Interiors: Drying Off With Towel, 1993. It’s everywoman after every bath. Gloriously rendered in lithographic ink, of all the many pieces in the exhibition, this one speaks not of Serr’s outer self but of her inner self.
I pondered Self-Portrait in Venetian Mask, 2011, a study in split personality, specifically Serr’s. She’s there somewhere, smiling behind the mask, as if to say, “If you can figure me out, go ahead and try. I dare you.” On the cover of the accompanying catalog (and on the main gallery’s wall), is a curious self-portrait: Serr stares outward. Her right arm thrusts forward. Her hand clutches a paint brush. But hold on, the arm is distinctly male, as if grafted on to her being, a statement no doubt, that as art history goes, the male artist dominates. Is it any wonder that she turned to herself to prove otherwise?
Speaking of faces, I’ll greatly miss the familiar face of Inova’s curator, Nicolas Frank, who has moved on to take an interim position at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where he hopes to add his expertise to an inter-disciplinary program. He curated the exhibition with the able assistance of Bruce Knackert, Director of Galleries at UW-Milwaukee.
The opening reception for About Face is 2-4 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Inova/Arts Center Gallery, 2400 E. Kenwood Blvd. The aforementioned catalog, with a critical essay by Miriam Seidel, is sublimely designed and includes comments by Lee Ann Garrison, Chair of UWM’s Department of Art & Design.