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