Tag: Janie Cohen

2015 | The Picture Was an Outrage

The Picture Was an Outrage was included in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Curated by Janie Cohen and on view at the Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT
February 3 – June 21, 2015

The Picture Was an Outrage

The Picture Was an Outrage, is heard…by viewers as they stand before a life-size projection of Demoiselles. This recording was made in collaboration with members of the UVM and Burlington arts communities, an extension of Karson’s own socially engaged art practices. What emerges as subject matter in this piece is the active role that conversation plays in the development of an artist’s ideas, as well as evaluation of the artist’s later impact. Staging the voices of seven members from Picasso’s inner circle, this sound installation presents snippets of personal responses to Demoiselles when it was first seen, in his studio in 1907. We hear the documented words of Picasso’s contemporaries such as Matisse, Georges Braque, Andre Derain and Alice Derain; writers and critics Gertrude Stein and Gelett Burgess; as well as the art dealer David-Henry Kahnweiler. The overwhelmingly negative sentiments captured by this sound installation point to the general consensus that Picasso may have gone mad while creating the work, which was initially deemed by his colleagues as a horrendous affront to painting.


The Picture Was an Outrage takes its power by representing a plausible moment of failure for Picasso. The harsh comments captured from over a century ago have a haunting effect, as the very first observations of this painting are reawakened. Criticism bounces through the room on a hypersonic speaker, which carries a strong psychological presence. The experience of sound feels almost as if it emerged from the viewer’s subconscious. Building a new dimension of physicality into our collective experience of Demoiselles, Karson casts a spell. She confronts Picasso’s greatest moment of vulnerability using staged role-play. Upon hearing the voices, one cannot help but reflect on the insults launched at contemporary artists who have arrived at ideas that are not accepted within the art world today.

Laura Blereau
From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon


(In order of appearance)

Alice Derain, Georges Braque…………………………………………………….Alison Nobile Class of 2015

Matisse communicated by Roland Penrose……..………………………..DJ Hellerman, Curator, Burlington City Arts

Gelett Burgess…………………………………………………………………………Major Jackson, Professor, Department of English

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler……………………..…………………………………..David V. Rosowsky, Provost and Vice President

Gertrude Stein…………………………………………………………………………Barbara Zucker, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Art

André Derain……………………………………………………………………………Angela Patton, Senior Lecturer, Department of English


2015 | Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre

Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre were included in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Curated by Janie Cohen and on view at the Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT, February 3 – June 21, 2015

Place Ravignon + Picasso at Montmartre in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon
Fleming Museum of Art.

Place Ravignan

Place Ravignan, 2015
Research for Place Ravignan. Photo credit: Chris Dissinger.

In the process of creating these works, Karson staged and produced recordings, and also captured existing sounds online, using sites such as Google, Sounddogs, Wikipedia, and You Tube. Her vision is achieved through a broad sense of perspective, and executed in a manner similar to movie directors working with actors, editors, and sound effects. Karson’s handling of sound is also influenced by the tradition of musique concrete, which relies on the apparatus of reproduction, as well as incorporating generative compositional techniques using live software playback.

Located at the exhibition’s entrance, Place Ravignan features an audio collage housed by a vintage Cygnet horn from the Edison Fireside Phonograph. Appearing worn and weathered, this sculpture plays with our expectations of early 20th-century artifacts and the simulated presence transmitted by an audio recording. The piece depicts the physical environment that birthed Cubism and served as home to a number of luminaries of the Modernist art and literary movements. It crafts a soundscape that evokes the surroundings of Le Bateau Lavoir, Picasso’s studio in 1907, where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted.

Place Ravignan imagines a walk from Picasso’s studio through the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre. The composition is named after a small cobblestone square that faces Le Bateau Lavoir and it maps out a narrative based on incidental noises, or “found” sounds. The building was known for its dark, drafty interior and creaky floorboards, so much so that it was nicknamed for the laundry boats anchored in the Seine. In Karson’s collage we hear the warm crackling of a coal stove, cries from Minou (Picasso’s cat), steps in the hallway, a knock at the door, and the bells of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Trotting horses and the roar of early motorcars are detected, as we mentally travel past Le Chat Nair and famed cafes, filled with lively chatter. A distorted mix of Erik Satie’s music floats through the neighborhood, punctuated by the restless murmurs of pigeons. Clinking wine glasses and dishes are heard, while a crowd’s laughter and banter intensifies.

As a vessel, the sound sculpture evokes composers such as John Cage, Annea Lockwood, and Stephen Vitiello, as it transports viewers from an interior space, inside Picasso’s studio, to that of the public and outdoors-essentially a space of social engagement. Karson’s idea of place in this work is based on a virtual and idealized site that is informed by historical and contemporary research. In this process, she consulted Google maps, a 1900 edition of the travel book Baedeker’s Paris and its Environs, and Loving Picasso-the journal of Fernande Olivier. Picasso’s mistress between 1904 and1911, Olivier is a recognizable figure from his Blue Period, Rose Period, and African Period , as well as in his Cubist work.

Laura Blereau
From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon
Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT

Jenn Karson and Coberlin Brownell, two Burlington-area tech gurus with backgrounds in art, engineered the technology for Staring Back. Karson focused on sound art while earning her MFA in design and technology at the San Francisco Art Institute; she now teaches in the University of Vermont’s engineering college. For the street soundscape, she researched turn-of-the-century Parisian guidebooks, among numerous sources, then layered sounds of cathedral bells, a passing horse and cart, a cooing dove, the clink of tableware, bits of French conversation and other clips. The whole is broadcast from behind a wall-mounted 1907 Edison phonograph horn, which Karson found for the exhibit.

Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015

Place Ravignon
Jenn Karson, 2015
Found sounds, foley, created with Max/MSP
Edison Horn, ca. 1907, collection of Jenn Karson and Ken Mills
Thanks to the University of Vermont Fab Lab

Picasso at Montmartre

Still from video “Picasso at Montmartre”

(3) Picasso at Montmartre

Picasso is seen here in the cobblestone square (Place Ravignan) just outside facing his studio, a few years before he would paint Les Demoiselles. The dilapidated studio building was known as the Bateau-Lavoir, or the washing boat, a name coined by Max Jacob, a writer and friend of the artist. Standing high on the hill of Montmartre, it swayed and creaked in high winds and rain, reminding its inhabitants of the laundry boats moored in the nearby River Seine.

Beside the horn, the tech gurus created a video installation. Brownell focused on augmented reality while earning his MFA in emergent media at Champlain College in Burlington, where he now teaches. The video begins with the iconic photo of a 23-year-old Picasso standing in the square outside the dilapidated Bateau-Lavoir, which housed his studio. Slowly, the image fades to a black-and-white video collage of Karson’s engineering student impersonating Picasso against the same background, smiling knowingly.

Like the hypersonic sound installation in the next room (The Picture Was an Outrage)—where the comments are read not by actors but by locally known curators, artists and other community members—the video component is intended to “make the piece really active for the campus and broader community,” says Karson. At the same time, the team wanted the immersion experience to “avoid nostalgia.” Karson adds, “The dissonance of having that student there…it’s so true. We’re bringing ourselves to that other time period, but we’re not there.”

Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015

Picasso at Montmartre
Video installation
Coberlin Brownell and Jenn Karson, 2015
Photo: Pablo Picasso at Montmartre, Place Ravignon, ca. 1904

Special thanks to Andrew Giroux ’15 and Alan Mosser of the UVM Theater Department.


Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon

February 3 – June 21, 2015
Fleming Museum of Art
University of Vermont, Burlington VT