University of the Arts, London

James Putnam

independent curator and writer senior lecturer in Curatorial Studies, University of the Arts, London

University of the Arts, London

23 Shepherd’s Close, London N6 5AG, UK

Interventions in the Sigmund Freud's Study, The Freud Museum, London

This presentation will focus on three artist projects at the Freud Museum, London and aims to demonstrate the advantages of introducing contemporary art to a historical museum. The Freud Museum is situated in North London and is the house that Freud lived in the last years of his life while exiled from Vienna by the Nazis. It contains the famous analytic couch on which patients would recline comfortably while Freud, out of sight, listened to their ls"free association'. They were asked to say everything that came to mind without consciously sifting or selecting information and this became a foundation upon which psychoanalytic therapy was built. Freud's study is also crowded with antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Orient and the importance of the collection is also evident in Freud's use of archaeology as a metaphor for psychoanalysis. He liked to compare the uncovering of archaeological layers, and their interpretation and reconstruction, with analysis. These three art projects attracted a different and much larger audience, generated good publicity and income for the museum and influenced their display policy. The artists also benefited from their new found associations with Freud and his writings which helped them to create a whole new body of work.

- Sophie Calle at The Freud Museum, 1999
Sophie Calle created a special installation at Sigmund Freud's house using her personal keepsakes and texts juxtaposed with Freud's collection. Her ls"eroticized' investigation of her own childhood and her adult memories became associated with specific objects from her personal museum and interwoven with her intimate texts. Composed from photos, objects and brief texts, her art often suggests extracts from a psychoanalysist's classic case history of a patient. Her references to certain highly significant, objects and emotionally charged events in her life have many parallels to Freud's own psychoanalytical theories and his collecting passion. In contrast to the sober setting of the museum's furniture and artefacts, Calle's texts printed on ls"lingerie' coloured cards charge the space with sensuality. Her concise caption-like narratives tell of stolen love letters, shoplifted red shoes, and her wedding in a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas. In Calle's texts fact and fiction merge to evoke contrasting images of innocence, sexuality, family and voyeurism and she shares with Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, a unique skill as a storyteller. The project subsequently became the subject of the publication ls"Appointment'.
(Thames Hudson, 2004)

ls"Beyond the pleasure principle'
- Sarah Lucas, at The Freud Museum, 2000
In the short book ls"Beyond the Pleasure Principle' (1920), Freud examined the idea of a hidden primitive urge towards death and developed a new theory of the death drive (Todestrieb). Thus in every living thing, in addition to the pleasure principle which the ancient Greeks called Eros, there exists another principle, namely what lives, wants to die again. Later, in 1937, Freud wrote "Only the collaboration and the conflict between two primal drives, Eros and death drive, explain the colourful variety of life's phenomena, never one of them alone." Inspired by Freud's writing Sarah Lucas created a number of new and site-specific sculptures that were installed throughout Freud's house in the study, dining room and bedroom. She made a number of chair sculptures some of which incorporated Freud's own furniture and in a fascinating published interview at the time Sarah Lucas spoke about her use of chairs and the Freudian context of her work. Her sculpture ls"Beyond the Pleasure Principle' was subsequently acquired for the collection of Tate Modern.

- Ellen Gallagher at the Freud Museum, 2005
Ichthyosaurus was a reptile that lived in the primeval oceans and the term was also a code used by the young Freud when writing to his friend, to describe a girl that he had a secret crush on. As a student Freud did his own research on sea creatures at the zoology laboratory in Trieste and even contemplated a future career as a marine biologist. Gallagher found an affinity with this and with Freud's surprisingly accomplished drawing skills. Before she embarked on an artistic career she was a science student and recalls spending time on a sailing boat in the Caribbean, catching, studying and drawing wing-footed water sails. Gallagher's two 16mm film projections feature a fictional oceanographer passing through the frames like a ghost, searching for exotic sea creatures. She also installed specimen jars containing eels and other marine specimens fabricated from paper and wax. These relate to Freud's research into the nervous systems of the lamprey (Petromyzon) and his exquisite series of drawings were specially displayed at the museum for the first time. Gallagher also produced her own version of Freud's celebrated photogravure of Abu Simbel, the original of which usually hangs above the library fireplace displayed in the study to coincide with Gallagher's exhibition which was sold for $20000 as a donation to this under funded museum.


Browse by year

Browse by category

Browse by country

View all