Archive for August, 2019

Visual Jam Sessions at the Zeitgeist 2002-2007

August 31, 2019

By John Elkerr and Maugre, detail

For six years in a row, from 2002 to 2007, the Zeitgeist collective sponsored a collaborative art festival.  No solo work was allowed.  By doing it every year, we got better and better at it and were able to hit a groove.  Some people would work on things off site and bring them in.  A few things were done by mail, for the out-of-towners.  Most of the work was done on site, at the Zeitgeist.

Smaller things were done in the back room.  These included a lot of works on paper and exquisite corpses.  The “corpses” were in the tradition of the old surrealist drawing game.  Most often, the paper is folded into 3 or 4 sections.  Each person does a section without seeing what the other people are doing.  One leaves lines showing where to connect or continue the lines.  Usually it’s marked which way’s the top and which ways  the bottom or what’s up and what’s down.  It can be directed that either “We’re trying to make a figure of sorts: feet arms, head.” or that we going for something more abstract or free form.

It’s always interesting deciding what the rules should be and when it’s better that there are, largely, no rules.



The larger work and  more complicated work was done on the floor of the gallery or out in the backyard.  We’d cover the floors with tarps to protect them, then we’d paint and draw like mad.  Sometimes people would just make a mess and the finished work didn’t look good.  One time, people spent hours on a canvas and someone came along and painted over most of it with black paint.  I guess that he didn’t like what they were doing or felt that it needed a radical change.  Eventually, we were able to orchestrate or coordinate things a bit.  This helped to increase the number of successful and interesting paintings.

It was nice to work in the backyard too.  Our ongoing mosaic on the wall in back was the first collaborative work that we started.   We’d work on that too.  A wide range of both serious artists and amateurs got involved.  Some unusual and extraordinary work was created.


By Audra Kubat, Maugre and others.


Some regulars included Jim Puntigam, John Elkerr, George Graveldinger, Diana Alva, Karl Schneider, myself aka Maugre, Jack Johnson, Michael Dion and Vito Valdez.  Many others participated over the years including Eric Mesko, Audra Kubat, Gwen Joy, Tim Burke, Joan Painter Jones, Carlos Bruton, Roger Hayes, Kathleen Rashid and Robert Hyde.  Not all of the Zeitgeist regulars got into the collaborative art sessions.  A lot of people heard about it and just came in.  There was always a new mix of people.


George Graveldinger and John Elkerr and others


George Graveldinger and John Elkerr at work


All in all, it was a grand experiment.  I used to wonder whether we were the only annual collaborative arts festival in the United States or were we the only annual collaborative arts festival in the world?  We could only keep it up for 6 years.  If the space hadn’t closed, in 2008 we’d likely have kept it up.  I coined the term Visual Jam Sessions.  We had two major reviews, one in the Metro Times and one in the Detroit Free Press.  A lot of this work was auctioned off at the gallery’s closing events.  Some of the larger paintings were glued and nailed to the street face of the gallery, up high.  They were still there for years.  Maybe they’re there still.


By Karl Schneider and Maugre


Diana Alva and Karl Schneider


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

The current exhibit, which closing in about 2 weeks:

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 September 13th. 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.




By Jim Puntigam and Maugre


Vito Valdez and Diana Alva, 2002


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




A close look at one work in particular: