The Freud Museum was Sigmund Freud’s home in the last year of his life from 1938-39. The museum has attracted interest in the contemporary art world having previously worked with artists such as Susan Hiller and Mat Collishaw. The current exhibition, Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed, presents the artist’s recently discovered psychoanalytic writings as well as other art objects that range from sculptures to textiles. This exhibition curated by Philip Larratt-Smith displays psychoanalysis – the connection between Freud and Bourgeois – through writings and artworks shown here for the first time. Asana Greenstreet speaks to Larratt-Smith about this exciting exhibition:
AG: There are so many conversations going on between ideas, objects and artworks. How did you conceive these conversations working in such a contained space?
PL-S: Well it’s a very charged space, obviously. I knew that the selection would have to be very precise so that the work would hold its own against the space, but also so that it wouldn’t feel as though the Freud Museum had been turned into a more traditional exhibition space. To me it’s a very good match, the pieces look strong, and the rooms are very elegant. It’s nice to have the works installed in rooms of a human scale in a domestic space, which is very different from, say, how it looks in most institutions, such as in the institutional white cube. It’s incredible to be able to hang works like, Janus Fleuri (1968) in Freud’s study, to hang it over Freud’s couch where his patients would lie down.”
AG: Is Janus Fleuri the key work in this show?
PL-S: For me, it’s the most important work she ever made. I wrote an essay about it in the catalogue called The Return of the Repressed, which gave its title to the show. To me that is the core of all of Louise’s work: it’s a “summing up” of the binary oppositions that run through her work giving it tension and complexity. Her own relationship with psychoanalysis was properly ambivalent, in the Freudian sense. This allowed her to become the great artist that she was. Without it, I’m not sure that she would have made the same transformation.
AG: How did you set about selecting the works for this exhibition?
PL-S: This is a new version of a show that has travelled around South America; it’s my exhibition from Buenos Aires that also travelled to São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. And that was a much more comprehensive selection of work because Louise had never shown there before, so it had more of a character of being a retrospective, whereas this is much more of a cherry picked selection.
AG: And a lot of these works have never been shown before…
PL-S: Yes, like The Dangerous Obsession (2003) on the mezzanine level. In London Louise is very well known because of the Turbine Hall installation and the Tate Modern retrospective; I think the audience here has had more experience with her work, and to make a more targeted or ‘”surgical” show is fine.
AG: I Am Afraid (2009) is an extremely gendered piece. Was Bourgeois conscious of these ideas when she was making her work?
PL-S: It’s an interesting question. She always said that the artist had an unusually direct relationship to the unconscious, and this direct access was both a blessing and a curse. It’s in Freud’s theory of repression. On the one had memories come back to Louise, but they come back with an emotional intensity that is often unpleasant and overwhelming, this makes it difficult for her to function in everyday life. But at the same time it’s a gift, because the artist is capable of sublimating these troubling experiences into permeated symbols.
AG: There are very different types of symbols in this exhibition. Some appear as words, texts, as well as the art object in its different forms. Would you agree?
PL-S: Yes sure. Louise was a great talker, a great mythologiser of herself, and told her life story the way she wanted it to be told. On the one hand she distrusted words, she said “with words you can lie to me, you can fool me”. Whereas she felt that in the visual realm you could know if something is true or false. And yet, Louise was such a prolific writer. There are over 1000 psychoanalytic writings, and they are one of the many forms of writing Louise has left us. It’s interesting that someone who had such a distrust of the verbal should have done so much writing herself.
AG: Were these writings the start of the idea for this exhibition then?
PL-S: Yes they were. I worked as Louise’s literary archivist from 2002 to her death in 2010. I am currently preparing the entire psychoanalytic writings with facsimiles for publication.
Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed, 8/03/2012 – 27/05/2012, The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, London, NW3 5SX. www.freud.org.uk
Aesthetica in Print
If you only read Aesthetica online, you’re missing out. The February/March issue of Aesthetica is out now and offers a diverse range of features from an examination of the diversity and complexity of art produced during the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, opening 11 February at MCA Chiacgo, a photographic presentation of the Irish Museum of Modern Art‘s latest opening, Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America Collection. Plus, we recount the story of British design in relation to a comprehensive exhibition opening this spring at the V&A.
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