Detroit’s Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue: 1997 to 2008

Hanging a work of art at the Zeitgeist

Total Sensory Freakout: Detroit’s Zeitgeist Collective, 1997 to 2008

My history of the Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue opened at the library of the University of Detroit Mercy on Monday May 20th. The display will continue through August. Materials include photographs, posters, postcards, original artwork and press clippings. This is my 6th year of exploring Detroit’s creative arts history at the library.

There are five display cases on the wall by the first floor entrance.  The last two, nearer the stairs will be focused largely on the theatre side of the Zeitgeist space.  Also on the first floor, original art will be displayed in the windows of the librarian’s offices.  On the second floor, in the Bargman room, there’s one more case.  It’s a large flat case.

The exhibit includes original artwork by Jacques Karamanoukian, John Elkerr, Roger Hayes, Jim Puntigam, Diana Alva, Gerard Sendrey, Claudine Goux, Sam Mackey, Robert Hyde, Maugré, Jaber, Pascal Hecker, Jean-Joseph Sanfourche, Arnold Dreifuss, Jack Johnson, Michael Loverich, Murray Carter and others.




Part of a huge collaborative mosaic on the building’s wall in the backyard.

More from the mosaic on the space’s wall in the backyard.

Part 1 of 4

This is the first in a series of blog posts that I’ll write in connection with my current exhibition.

The Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue was an eclectic and expansive project.  We did amazing things on a shoestring budget.  We first started doing collaborations with an ongoing mosaic in the backyard.  That was likely an inspiration for the 7-year long Visual Jam Sessions series.  Artists arrived and created work together.  This was done mostly on-site.  Sometimes people created things elsewhere and brought them in.  No solo work was allowed.  Each work was made by at least two artists.  Some paintings were done by as many as 6 or 7 people.

The theatre put on many interesting plays.  We even won a play of the year award for our production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  Sometimes the artists got involved with the theatre.  This was mostly in the form of doing art for the promotional material or for the programs.  They used one of my paintings as part of the set for The Ubu Variations.  I tried to see every play.  There was often a good sense of solidarity and mutual respect between the theatre side and the visual arts side.

The Zeitgeist kept reaching out to and connecting with the larger Detroit Arts scene.  People would walk in off of the street and end up being a part of the space.  The exhibits held there were selected and curated carefully.  We tried to show work that fit in with our outsider art/ art brut aesthetic.  Yet there were always exceptions to this.  Quality speaks for itself.  If we thought someone was doing solid work, we’d often give them a chance. The large group exhibitions and the Visual Jam Sessions were more inclusive.

In 11 years, the Zeitgeist staged some 30 or 40 plays.  Most of these were house productions, often with input or direction by Troy Richard and John Jakary.  Toward the end, some of the plays were productions of the Abreact theatre group.  We showcased a wide variety of experimental playwrights.  One of the most notable of the local writers was the late Ron Allen.  His plays were special events.

In the same time, the gallery held over 70 art exhibits.  Most of these were by Detroit area artists.  Through our friendship with the late Jacques Karamanoukian, we ended up showing quite a few artists from overseas.  The two gallery directors merit special mention, first Karl Schneider and later on,  Jim Puntigam.

We always worked very hard, took chances and pushed the envelope.  On one of the beams in the theatre’s dressing room, someone wrote “Suffered Much, Learned Much.”  That could be one of the unofficial mottos for the entire enterprise.  There is nothing even remotely similar on the Detroit art scene today.

One of the paintings created at one of the last of the visual jam sessions. By Jack Johnson, Maugre and others.

Previous exhibits in this Summer series:

2014, A  History of Detroit’s Visual Arts scene.

2015, The Poetic Express in Context: 1985 to 2015.

2016, Lost Cultural Venues of Detroit: Social Spaces and Playgrounds.

2017, The Life and Times of the Heidelberg Project

2018, Clues and Cultural Artifacts

Information on the art and artists connected with the Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue:

EPSON DSC picture

By Jacques Karamanoukian


Some of  these photos will enlarge if you click on them and hit the backspace to return to the post.

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