Le Minotaure Lives:
A Friends' Tribute to Jacques Karamanoukian

by Nick Sousanis


This month Zeitgeist Gallery rounds up both in house and out of town so-called "outsider artists" for "Le Minotaure Lives," a celebration of their late mentor, friend, and great supporter of Outsider art, Jacques Karamanoukian. The title pays tribute to Karamanoukian's Ann Arbor gallery "Le Minotaure," a name which also serves to help better understand what outsider art is. The mythical half-man/half-bull Minotaur is perhaps the perfect metaphor for outsider artists. Although it possesses human hands with which to create, this creature is guided by an animal mind, and thus in touch with a purer, more instinctual means of expression.

This notion and acceptance of outsider art in fact evolved from something French artist Jean DuBuffet termed Art Brut, which he used to describe the art made by asylum inmates coming out of Germany in the 1920s. The mentally ill were seen as connecting directly to something deep and primal, often inaccessible to those more in step with reality. The term "Outsider Art" has become a catch-all phrase which includes artists who are primarily self-taught, work outside of the boundaries of the established art world, and utilize a primitive and child-like means of expression. Outsider artists are characterized by little concern for recognition for their art, and total compulsion to make work just to make work. Dispensing with the specific requirements of a well-stocked artist's studio, they make do with what's on hand - ink, paint, crayon, wood, metal, rock, and at times even canvas.

Contrast this view of outsider art with that of the academic art world. In fact, practitioners of outsider art would make the case that schooling tends to deaden expression and stifle individuality - the reverse goal of art. Mythology once again provides an apt metaphor: Daedalus, master sculptor and inventor, the builder of the labyrinth which caged the Minotaur, might represent the academic art model. The maze then stands as a metaphor for the rational teachings of the academic art school seeking to confine pure, primal expression.

(It is of interest to note however, that Daedalus also was instrumental in the Minotaur's creation: by elaborately disguising the Queen (the Minotaur's mother) he helped make it possible for her to be impregnated by Poseidon's bull. So perhaps the Minotaur and Daedalus represent two halves of an internal struggle between our rational and more impulsive sides.)

After arriving in Ann Arbor in the late 1960s to attend graduate school, the French-born Karamanoukian would go on to support himself teaching French literature all the while becoming an ardent collector and dealer of outsider art and artists, as well as an artist in his own right. To this end he opened and ran galleries over a 25 year period including "Le Minotaure." Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg project brought Karamanoukian to Detroit and in contact with a hungry population of outsider artists including Maurice Greenia, Jr. (Maugre), Jim Puntigam, the current director of Zeitgeist Gallery, Guyton's grandfather Sam Mackey, and many more. (Mackey - "Grandpa" as he was known to all, was an outsider artist in the purest sense. After receiving a gift of a crayon from his grandson at age 88, he began making art and went on to have exhibitions in Europe.) Karamanoukian used his connections in both countries to bring in artists from Paris and send Detroit-area outsiders to exhibit in France.

The strong bonds between Karamanoukian and other Detroit artists, led to him playing a significant role in Zeitgeist's formation, providing the gallery with artists and work from his own collection. After Karamanoukian passed away from cancer in 2002, Puntigam, Greenia, Troy Richard, John Jakary, and Vito Valdez purchased this collection of work known as "Jacques' Wall" to hold onto his memory and preserve this collection at Zeigeist as a museum of sorts.

"Le Minotaure Lives" brings together these artists and friends whom Karamanoukian collected and exhibited. The partial exhibition list includes from France: Gerard Sendrey, Claudine Goux, Sanfourche, and Jaber; from artists working in the United States: Michael Loverich and Leif Ritchey; and Detroit: Mary Ellen Croci, George Graveldinger, Roger Hayes, Robert Hyde, Francine Rouleau, Karl Schneider, Vito Valdez, Maurice Greenia, Jr., Diana Alva, and DMC.

With styles ranging from representational to non-objectively abstract, palettes going from the application of bright pure color to high contrast black and white, each artist is distinct and recognizable, yet there is a similarity to mark them as brethren. This show offers a great opportunity to see the best of what outsider art can be and gain a better understanding of the man who brought them all together.

Karamanoukian's energy and efforts were an important contribution toward furthering Outsider Art on both sides of the Atlantic. Stop in with an open mind and a hungry eye, and see if there's not a little bit of outsider in you too.

This is the first of two exhibitions dedicated to Jacques Karamanoukian. The second, coming later this spring, will consist entirely of works by Karamanoukian.

Le Minotaure Lives: A Friends' Tribute to Jacques Karamanoukian
Zeitgeist Gallery

2661 Michigan Avenue
New Gallery Hours: Sat. 11am - 5pm, Sun. 12pm-4pm
Saturday, January 29 through Saturday, March 12, 2005
Opening reception Saturday January 29, 2005 from 7:00pm until midnight.

© 2002 thedetroiter.com