The Surrealist Spirit of Jacques Karamanoukian

Jacques Karamanoukian at the Zeitgeist

 Number 3 of a series: From the Zeitgeist Website

The Surrealist Spirit of Jacques Karamanoukian  (from MAUGRE May 16, 2002)

This is the first in a series of pieces I’ll write about my late friend Jacques Karamanoukian.  We lost him three days ago to the cancer.  He didn’t make it.

He’ll be very much missed by numerous friends from theDetroitarea, aroundEuropeand elsewhere. 

Jacques was not specifically a Surrealist yet he knew Surrealism well.  He had a special connection with Arshile Gorky due to their shared Armenian heritage and the fact thatGorky(though often overlooked) was one of the most powerful artists of the last century.  His work was so strong, so fully realized.

Some of his other favorites were Jean Dubuffet, Antonin Artaud, Victor Brauner, Wifredo Lam and Andre Masson.  I shared an exhibit at Galerie Jacques inAnn Arborwith a group of Masson’s erotic lithographs.  (Jacques was an art dealer/promoter/collector, a writer on the arts, a fine artist himself and much more). 

He was very knowledgeable about Surrealism–one of the few aroundDetroitwith whom I could talk about its “fine points”–its ideas and participants. 

Yet, if Jacques was not explicitly SURREALIST, he embodied the Surrealist spirit better (and more fully) than anyone I’ve ever known.  

The same Surrealist spirit I sense in Artaud, Breton, Duchamp, Bunuel, Peret and others was strong in Jacques (surrealist in LIFE).  It’s also strong in me (how strong I’m not sure, but when I want it to be stronger yet, I’ll often think of Jacques). 

His sense of “black humor” was often evident (an unusual and intense sense of “umour.”) 

He knew what he was against and what he was for and was never shy about making his opinions heard.  He often crossed paths with the pretentious, poseurs, phony or imitative art/artists, mistaken and bewildered art critics, all “art fairs”, trendiness, the art-ificial, squares, know-it-alls, the pompous, the wind bags, the two-faced back stabbers, the condescending, the stuffed shirts, the “petite bourgeoisie” and yes ALL of the “enemies of love” (who ever and where ever they may be).  In the presence of these he’d often respond by saying things like “The IDIOTS! Then, he’d proceed to detail exactly why these people were wrong or mistaken or misguided or dangerous.  

There was a very strong sense of being unwilling and unable to compromise.  He did things the way HE thought he should.  Within this was a sort of intensity (like a storm) which was wild in ways yet always filtered through intellect, though careful and measured thinking.  He studied both what he loved and what he hated, both “friends” and “enemies.”  We’d talk about AWARENESS, a living and growing knowledge. 

This sort of intense spirit is part of dada that Surrealism kept (to let it grow and mutate).  It is marked by a great anger, indignation and disgust balanced with great stores of love, tenderness and the capacity to be surprised/amazed.

It’s strength was just as powerful when it came to political and social issues.  He was a true radical, but in his own way.  Jacques was no friend to the “powers-that-be” not any of them. 

He was uncompromising unless the compromise was absolutely unavoidable.  Thus it was with that final compromise (the one we all make, eventually/ whether we like it or know it or not).  Having cancer must be like being in another world.  His suffering (and the way he fought to LIVE despite it) were the last signs of his spirit, his strength.


4 Responses to “The Surrealist Spirit of Jacques Karamanoukian”

  1. A Rallying Cry for the Cultural Life of Detroit! « for art and artists Says:

    […] […]

  2. Bill Hagan Says:

    What a surprise! We recently moved and were trying to decide where to hang an invitation from our old friend Jacques. We knew him from about 1970 until 1986 when we moved out west. We were frequent guests at is three Ann Arbor locations drinking coffed made with giant spoons of sugar and a sirup from a small brass pot. We bought several of his French artists including an Ajar before we were married. Jacque had Ajar visit and had a show of his works. He also had a show for a woman named Luberoff (spelling). One of our favorites from him is a courois.
    His emphasis Detroit must have come after we knew him. We encouraged him to do his own work. I tried to photogrph it but I didn’t have the proper lens. We’ve traveled the world for years and probably have other pieces of his somewhere which we’ll now try and find. As you may know Jacques taught French and Huron High. The day school ended he flew to Paris to return the day before classes started. We have many fond memories of Jacques and were sorry to move so far away and lose contact. I’m not surprised at his promotion of art as it was the only subject he would talk about on our many enjoyable visits.
    Bill and Dorothy Hagan

  3. artremedy20 Says:

    Thanks Bill. I’d sent you an email. I’d be interested in hearing more of his history in those years before I knew him.

  4. Damien Le Magoariec Says:

    Hi, my name is damien Le Magoariec, I am an employee of the french Museum of Bègles. Jacques Karamanoukian was a great friend of the museum creator Gérard Sendrey. I try to find informations about a lot of pieces in our collection comes from Jacques’s Legacy. We don’t have any informations about fifty artists, maybe someone can help us. I can send a list of the concerned artist. Thanks in advance.

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